Mail theft and counterfeiting: Vidor police arrest suspected ringleader
Southeast Texans should be on the alert for missing mail.
Mail theft associated with one or more counterfeit check-cashing rings is on the rise in the area, according to officers from three local law enforcement entities. The thieves are apparently rifling through people’s mail, stealing checks, banking information and, ultimately, identities.
One suspected ringleader allegedly involved in the fraudulent activities was just arrested in Vidor on Feb. 6, Chief Rod Carroll reports.
According to Carroll, an officer with the Vidor Police Department (VPD) initiated a traffic stop on Interstate 10 at FM 1132 on a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Monday. The driver produced a Texas Driver’s License identifying himself as David Henry Wurtz, age 30. When the officer asked dispatch to verify the DL and if there were any warrants, a detective from the VPD recognized the name from an ongoing investigation related to a counterfeit check-cashing ring that involved a vehicle pursuit the previous week.
When the detective arrived on the scene, he identified the driver by his real name, William Elbert Grubbs, 45, of Orange. Upon being confronted with his real identity, Grubbs attempted to run away, at which time officers initiated a foot pursuit that ended when they Tased him. Grubbs was placed in custody and transported to the Orange County Correctional Facility. He was still in custody Feb. 8.
During an inventory of the vehicle, officers located two loaded pistols, one of which had been reported stolen. In the rear of the vehicle, officers located two printers, a laptop computer, numerous fraudulent checks, a large amount of blank check paper stock and 18 government-issued identification cards for numerous individuals.
“It appears that this check-cashing ring has been operating throughout Southeast Texas from Houston to Orange County,” Carroll stated.
During the investigation, officers also discovered a large amount of what they believe to be methamphetamine.
Grubbs has an extensive criminal history. A criminal database search revealed he has been convicted of multiple felony charges for possession of a controlled substance, assault charges and for possessing a prohibited weapon.
Carroll commended the officers involved in the arrest for “their diligence in the investigation and removing a dangerous criminal from our community.”
Grubbs was taken to jail on a warrant for possession of a controlled substance with a $100,000 bond when he was arrested Feb. 6. Charges pending against him related to the current police investigation include two charges of felon in possession of a firearm, fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, forgery of a financial instrument, forgery of a government document and possession of a controlled substance.
Orange County, with Vidor included, has seen a rash of mail thefts and related counterfeit check incidents in the last couple of months, officers report.
According to a report from the Orange Police Department, detectives there are investigating counterfeit checks received from two separate individuals at a convenience store within the city. According to the clerk, a man entered the store Jan. 19 and cashed a check for $878.22. A few minutes later, a second man walked in and cashed a similar check for $875.32. Days later, the business’s bank sent back both checks stating they were forged.
Jan. 30, the second known suspect came back to try again with another similar check, but by then the clerk was onto the con. He refused to cash the check and instead called the police. The suspect left the scene before police arrived. Officers indicate Grubbs is one of possible suspects related to those fraudulent checks.
In unincorporated Orange County, detectives are investigating multiple reports of mail thefts and related counterfeiting. Criminal Investigator Janois Strause Grizzaffi said some business owners reported cashing bad checks for one or more suspects. Detectives determined that some of the perpetrators were “washing” the checks, using a chemical solution to remove the names on them. They would then replace the name of the payee with their own and cash out at convenience stores or other businesses.
“They change the name on the check, and then keep the money for themselves,” Grizzaffi explained.
Others are printing their own fake checks.
Detectives are following up on leads related to the mail theft and counterfeiting within that jurisdiction, said Grizzaffi, and Grubbs is one suspect of many in numerous cases currently being prepared to be sent to the district attorney’s office for charges.
“We are also working with the postal inspector to possibly file some of our cases federally,” said Grizzaffi, as mail tampering is a federal crime. “As of this time, we haven’t made any arrests because our cases will have to go before the grand jury and have an indictment issued for them.”