H.B., Irvine police help nab bank fraud suspects

Seven people have been arrested on suspicion of a nationwide bank fraud scheme that may have deprived customers of more than $100 million, a spokesman from the Huntington Beach Police Department said.

A federal task force that consisted of agents from the United States Secret Service and officers from the Huntington Beach police, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department and Irvine Police Department arrested the suspects Aug. 21, according to a release from the Huntington police.

Sgt. Dale Shields identified five of the people arrested as Deon Callis of Playa del Rey, Leobardo Cantu of Bell and Kenneth Trapp, Mauris Thompson and Larry Mohammad, all of Los Angeles. He declined to name the other two people arrested because he said their level of involvement was not yet clear.

Shields said Huntington police began investigating the case last year when a woman was arrested on suspicion of withdrawing money from a local Chase bank using fraudulent information. The woman, identified as Kandi Puterbaugh, pleaded guilty in July to access device fraud, according to court records.

After running forensics on Puterbaugh's phone, police began to identify people suspected in similar incidents, according to Shields. Employees from Bank of America and Chase soon began cooperating with police on the investigation.

By Tuesday, Shields said, police had identified roughly 50 people that they hoped to arrest in connection with the case. Most of them have criminal records and appear to have grown up together, either as friends or family, in south Los Angeles.

"I have numerous names," Shields said.

The perpetrators of the scheme withdrew funds from banks using counterfeit identification that featured their pictures but the personal information of other account holders. Shields said bank employees appeared to have been in on the scheme and provided information about customers, and one Bank of America employee has been arrested in connection with the case.

Victims of the scheme typically lost between $25,000 and $30,000 through multiple withdrawals, Shields said. He said cases have been reported in Newport Beach, Irvine, Garden Grove, Brea and Anaheim.

Shields added that while about $20 million in missing funds was officially accounted for, the total amount taken may exceed $100 million.

Most of the bank employees who apparently abetted the scheme worked in Southern California or Las Vegas, but the people who allegedly withdrew the funds have been arrested as far away as Indiana, Colorado and Ohio, Shields said.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Shields at (714) 536-5948 or Det. Brad Smith at (714) 960-8848.


Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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