The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office successfully thwarted an organized crime ring’s attempt Friday to cash fraudulent checks at Lewiston Express in Grovetown.
Four people were arrested in a scheme that began when the manager of Lewiston Express, Kinjalkumar Patel, grew suspicious after cashing numerous checks from WW Siding, LLC. Upon contacting the owner of WW Siding, Wilfredo Calles, Patel learned that the checks were indeed fraudulent.
As Patel confronted the suspects inside the business, three Hispanic males hastily fled to their vehicles, prompting Patel to follow them into the parking lot. Amid the chaos, Patel fired a shot at one of the vehicles as it drove toward him, resulting in his being struck by the fleeing vehicle as it sped off onto Lewiston Road.
A deputy working in the vicinity heard the commotion and promptly alerted dispatch, leading to a rapid response from law enforcement, said Maj. Steve Morris with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. Witnesses provided crucial information, allowing deputies to track down the suspects.
Four Hispanic males, identified as Jorge Eduardo Munoz-Quiroz, Pedro Luis Cueto, Raul Reyes, and another unidentified individual, were apprehended following a coordinated effort by law enforcement officers. The suspects, claiming to be from El Salvador and Colombia but residing in Houston, Texas, confessed to their involvement in the fraudulent check cashing scheme.
A search of the suspects’ vehicle yielded alarming discoveries, including a stolen handgun, Mexican passports, identifications under different names, and multiple fraudulent checks from WW Siding and other businesses. The operation, it was revealed, was meticulously planned by an organized crime ring intent on cashing as many fraudulent checks as possible and regrouping in Texas to divide the ill-gotten gains, Maj. Morris said.
Despite the swift apprehension of the suspects, one individual managed to evade capture, fleeing towards Columbia Road. Law enforcement authorities issued alerts for the outstanding suspects, leading to the eventual arrest of a fourth suspect spotted on I-20 later Saturday morning.
Warrants were issued for the suspects on charges including forgery in the fourth degree, obstruction of a law enforcement officer, and theft by receiving stolen property. All suspects were denied bond as the investigation continued.