DADE CITY (FOX 13) - Sophisticated printers, check paper, super glue, and tweezers: these are the ingredients Pasco County investigators say were used in an elaborate forgery operation.
The alleged con artist – an otherwise seasoned pro – was caught driving a car that had been reported stolen.
That’s when his alleged scheme began to unravel. On June 27, a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled over a vehicle that had been reported stolen – driven by 33-year old Mickey Bearden.
One look inside and the deputy says she knew she had something serious on her hands.
“She noticed in the passenger side of the vehicle that there was a printer with multiple checks on top of it,” Detective Spencer Hubbell described Wednesday.
There were 32 checks in total, along with stubs of checks that had already been cashed, several government-issued IDs, and social security cards. A few checks, in particular, stood out - and for good reason.
“Specifically, a check of interest came from Paula S. O'Neill, Clerk of Court,” Hubbell said.
Investigators now believe was making bogus checks, including some claiming to be jury and witness payouts from the Pasco County Clerk's Office.
Investigators from the sheriff's Economic Crimes Unit say Bearden was sophisticated in his tactics, creating realistic-looking, watermarked checks. They say creating faux checks from a county official was deliberate.
“When you've got an official business check, especially something like the Clerk of Court, you might not think twice about it, as opposed to a personal check,” Hubble explained.
Mom-and-pop businesses are often the real victims of the crimes. If they cash the fake checks, many times they're out the funds for good. And unfortunately, detectives say operations like this one are a dime a dozen.
“It's a trend that we're unfortunately starting to see more and more. We're getting better at identifying targets and actively trying to stop these forgeries,” Hubble said.
Bearden was booked into the Pasco County Jail Tuesday. He faces multiple felony forgery charges, including 32 counts of forgery, two counts of possession of instruments for forgery and one possession of personal information on five or more victims.