State Treasurer Don Stenberg is warning financial institutions and businesses to be cautious when cashing State of Nebraska warrants to protect themselves in light of several recent forgery attempts in Omaha. He also urged Nebraskans to avoid attempting to cash checks if asked by someone unknown to them.
A 19-year-old Omaha woman, Catalina A. Gomes, has been arrested and is in jail in Douglas County on three counts of second degree forgery, according to Omaha police. An arrest warrant for a second Omaha woman has been issued.
Deputy Douglas County Attorney Matthew Kuhse said Gomes allegedly passed a forged State of Nebraska warrant for $4,032 at a Walmart store in Omaha and a $4,431 State of Nebraska warrant at American National Bank in Omaha. She is alleged to have unsuccessfully attempted to pass a forged State of Nebraska warrant for $8,223 at American National Bank. The charges are Class III felonies and each is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Also, Det. Sandra Wylie of the Major Crimes Unit in the Omaha Police Department said an arrest warrant for first degree forgery has been issued in Douglas County for a 20-year-old Omaha woman, who allegedly cashed a State of Nebraska warrant for $4,480 at an Omaha Walmart. It is believed the two women were working together.
Treasurer Stenberg emphasized that the State of Nebraska did not lose any money in the fraudulent transactions.
Stenberg praised his Treasury Management staff for responding quickly to a bank inquiry about a suspicious State of Nebraska warrant on Sept. 10 and to alerting authorities as soon as it became clear that the warrant was fraudulent. Staff members said records showed that the number on the warrant called in by the bank matched the number of a warrant that had already been cashed. That caused concern because each warrant issued by the State of Nebraska has its own warrant number.
Further prompting concern was the fact that neither the name nor the amount on the warrant brought to the attention of the Treasurer’s Office matched information in the Treasurer’s system.
“The Treasury Management Division staff did a great job preventing financial loss to the State and assisting law enforcement,” the Treasurer said.
Treasurer Stenberg said businesses and financial institutions should be particularly alert to unusual circumstances when presented with State of Nebraska warrants and should familiarize themselves with unique features of state warrants that are difficult to duplicate including color, paper quality, and placement of key elements such as the Treasurer’s signature, State of Nebraska name, and image of the Capitol.
“While forging or counterfeiting a State of Nebraska warrant is rare, we are asking banks and businesses to be particularly careful after having learned about several instances of fraud that were reported in Omaha,” the Treasurer said. “We appreciate the Omaha Police Department’s and the Douglas County Attorney’s diligence in finding the people who are responsible and seeking restitution for organizations that lost money.”
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The Treasurer said it is not known if Gomes and the woman being sought were cashing forged State of Nebraska warrants on their own, or if they are a part of a larger–scale, organized operation.
Deputy Douglas County Attorney Kuhse said someone is making these checks to look like warrants issued by the State of Nebraska. An attentive bank employee became suspicious about the $8,223 warrant, noting the color of the check, the placement of the wording on the check, and the fact that it was for twice the amount of other state warrants the bank had cashed, Kuhse said.
Gomes, who was arrested Jan. 18 in Omaha, has been bound over to the Douglas County District Court for trial, Kuhse said. No trial date has been set. She is being held in jail on a $15,000 bond.
Omaha Police Det. Wylie also cautioned Nebraskans to avoid cashing checks for strangers. “If you are approached by someone you don’t know—or don’t know well— to cash a check, and he or she is offering to pay you money to cash the check, think twice about it and don’t go forward with it. Most likely the check is counterfeit,” she said.
She urged financial institutions to examine checks carefully and to take the time necessary to verify the check’s authenticity, even if other customers are waiting.
She also urged businesses or organizations to avoid putting employee paychecks in a common area. One check can easily be removed, the account number and routing number and other identifying information copied, and the check returned to the common area without anyone noticing, she said. Checks can also be stolen from individuals’ home mailboxes and important information copied before the checks are returned, often unknown to the homeowners, she said.