By GARY POPP
Three Georgia men were arrested by Clarksville Police Department officers Tuesday on suspicion that they are involved in a check-fraud operation crossing multiple states.
Jerome A. Blake, 25, Marshun D. Jackson, 33, and Khadim B. Jawneh, 21, have been preliminarily charged with multiple counts of fraud and forgery, both class C felonies, CPD reported. Each of the men is being held at the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex in Jeffersonville on a $150,000 cash-only bond. Mark Palmer, CPD chief, said the men are believed to canvass areas picking up homeless people and then use their identification cards to cash forged checks.
According to a probable-cause affidavit, Jawneh and Blake were riding in a Chevrolet Tahoe about 4 p.m. the day of their arrests when a patrol officer saw the vehicle turn into America’s Best Inn on Eastern Boulevard without using a turn signal. The officer conducted a traffic stop, and before the officer exited his patrol car, Jawneh, the driver of the Tahoe, stepped out of the vehicle.
“While speaking to [Jawneh], I could smell an odor of burned marijuana coming from inside the vehicle, and I observed Jawneh to be trembling,” the officer put into the affidavit.
As the officer patted down Jawneh, he reported seeing through the Tahoe’s open door seeds and stems on the vehicle’s floor board and “ ... what appeared to be checks in the back seat of the vehicle ... ,” according to the affidavit.
Blake was removed from the vehicle, and the officer found three identification cards, none of which belonged to him, in his front pocket.
“I asked [Blake] what he was doing with the identifications, and he stated that the subjects owed him money, and he was holding onto their IDs until he could collect the money,” according to the affidavit.
At this time, Jawneh gave the officer consent to search the vehicle.
During the search, the officer located personal checks with neither Blake or Jawneh’s names on them, and they were made out to businesses in the Indianapolis area. Other checks were found under the vehicle’s passenger seat. One of the checks was from Applebee’s restaurant and was made payable to an individual who was not Blake or Jawneh. Another check was from a hospital and made out to an individual, whose ID was found in Blake’s pocket.
The found checks were for amounts between $2,100 and $3,200.
Three men’s names were listed as payees on two separate checks of the at least six checks found in the vehicle.
Blake and Jawneh then told police they were staying with friends in America’s Best Inn. One of the officers on the scene then went to the motel room, and found the “listed victims” in the room with Jackson. Everyone in the room was told by police to sit on the ground outside the room.
One of the victims was taken back into the room and told the officer that he and his friends were staying in a halfway house in Louisville and that Blake, Jawneh and Jackson had come to the facility and told them they would pay them each $2,500 to help promote their record label.
“He stated that they [the suspects] had helped them get a room at the [America’s] Best Inn and upon arriving at the hotel room, all their IDs were taken,” according to the affidavit.
The men were told their identification cards were needed for tax purposes, police reported.
Police were told Jackson had stayed in the motel room to monitor the halfway house residents, as Blake and Jawneh went to make copies of their identification cards. According to the affidavit, all the men from the halfway house had identified the three suspects as helping them obtain the motel room and that they had stated they worked for a record label.
After investigators arrived on the scene, Jawneh told police the suspects had two rooms rented at nearby Motel 6 and consent was given to police search the rooms. In one of the rooms, police found a typewriter, and in the other room three additional identification cards were located underneath a mattress belonging to other victims.
Clarksville police Chief Mark Palmer said the U.S. Secret Service is working in cooperation with CPD on the case.
He said one of the suspects had told investigators they had cashed $20,000 in forged checks last week in Bowling Green, Ky.
Palmer said the investigation has not revealed the suspects have committed any check-fraud crimes in Clarksville.
He added that police believe the three suspects are working with a larger check-fraud network. Palmer said it appears the suspects are going through mailboxes and trash to collect routing and account numbers and printing fraudulent checks.
He explained that the suspects likely traveled to the area to conduct the check-fraud operation so they can leave the area with no or little ties after collecting the money from the cashed checks, adding that they are able to “just disappear.”
Palmer also said by using area homeless people they are able get access to local identification cards, which makes their operation less suspicious to bank tellers handing over the money
The three men were scheduled to appear in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 Friday, April 26.