Rim country investigators think Phil White Ford may have been the latest victim in a series of business-check thefts.
Four checks allegedly stolen from the Star Valley auto dealership were cashed for just under $4,000 Feb. 26 at Compass Bank in Scottsdale.
Similar crimes were reported here in December and January, when checks were reported stolen from Intermountain West Civil Constructors, Payson Fence Company, and Creekside Restaurant.
Payson Police Det. Steve Johnson said a common motive seems to link the local burglaries with others around the state.
Police think the thieves behind the crimes are well-organized Mexican nationals, who normally target businesses in the construction industry. According to police, the burglars break into businesses and steal company checks. The checks are later duplicated, typed out and distributed to accomplices, who cash them at banks around the state.
On each of the four auto dealer's checks, the person who cashed the checks included a resident alien number. A resident alien is a foreigner who is legally living in the United States with a green card.
"The resident alien numbers were phony, of course," Det. George Ratliff from the Gila County Sheriff's Department said.
What may distinguish this case from previous ones, however, is a clue left behind.
"We got one extremely good thumbprint on one of the checks," said Ratliff, who is investigating the Phil White Ford case.
Since Phil White Ford is located outside town limits, the county agency has jurisdiction. Ratliff said two other solid prints may provide the lead police have been hoping for.
"But we don't know if this one will be our case or not," Ratliff said, because the account the checks were drawn on may have been closed when the checks were cashed.
That would make Scottsdale's Compass Bank the victim, not Phil White Ford, he said, and if that's the case, the Scottsdale Police will handle the investigation.
Each of the four checks were written for amounts just under $1,000 as were the other stolen checks cashed in Payson. Ratliff said each of the four checks were dated Feb. 26, the same day they were cashed. And since federally insured banks are involved, he said, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also may be investigating the crimes.