Phony Check Thieves Steal $300,000 From Sioux Falls Business

Fireplace Professionals Thought Bank Protected Money

It’s a nightmare scenario, thieves, hundreds of miles away, writing phony checks for thousands of dollars draining your bank account. Most of us would think number one it would not happen to us and number two, the bank would recognize the fraud and protect our money. However, a Sioux Falls business is out tens of thousands of dollars, and they want others to know how easy it is for thieves to take your money.

Tony Leggett and his dad John own Fireplace Professionals on 41st street in Sioux Falls. The small business has grown since it opened more than 30 years ago. In September of 2016, Tony realized something was very wrong with the balance in one of the business’s checking accounts.

“It’s been a real scary situation,” said Tony. “I had no idea how easy it was to cash a check without the signature that it is supposed to have.”

850 miles away thieves forged John’s signature and wrote six phony checks totaling more than $290,000. On august 2nd, a check written out for $52,000 dollars to a fake company called “Tax One” in Dallas Texas. Two days later on August 4th another check to “Tax One” for $52,000. The next day a check for $5,100 was forged to somebody using the name Anthony Hill, also of Dallas. On August 30th the thieves came back for more. Here’s one for more than $78,000, again made out to “Tax One” of Dallas. On September 23rd a check for just under $69,000. And on September 14th a check for just under $40,000.

“The FBI has deemed that money gone,” said Tony.

According to Tony an agent told him the money disappeared somewhere in Europe probably in an eastern bloc country. A woman claiming to be Denise Ross endorsed the phony checks. Investigators tell tony they tracked down Denise Ross. Her name is on the checks but it is not her signature because she was in jail. Denise Ross is accused of killing a woman by injecting bootlegged silicone into her buttocks.

All together, the bogus checks totaled $294,078. First premier reimbursed them for 249-thousand, but only after Tony and his dad hired a lawyer and reached a settlement last month. All told, they are out about 45 grand.

“Unfortunately it was gone from us both us and the bank, said Tony. “I just thought that there was security things built into having money in the bank where you would have some recourse to recover the money and the bank wasn’t prepared to reimburse us for that kind of money.”

Tony says the biggest lesson he learned is small business owners, even those who have worked with the same bank for more than 20 years, need to know that things like this do happen.

“Small businesses can’t survive when you do that type of thing to them,” said Tony. “You know that would kill a lot of businesses.”

We reached out to First Premiere Bank and are waiting to hear back from them. Tony says Fireplace Professionals has moved to a different bank and now use a service called Positive Pay that gives them better protection. He says Fireplace Pros is moving away from checks and the future will involve a secure form of electronic payments.

The FBI tells KDLT News they can’t comment on the case at this time because the investigation is ongoing.




Categories: Business, Local News

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