By JESSIE HORTON
STEPHENVILLE (September 4, 2015) — On a day when Americans have united in support of law enforcement, the Erath County Sheriff’s Office and Stephenville Police Department announced a joint operation that took six known criminals from Harris County – including two wanted in relation to a murder in Houston – off local streets.
According to law enforcement officials, more than ten unknown Hispanic persons were in First Financial Bank Wednesday afternoon attempting to cash fraudulent checks. When the bank contacted law enforcement, ECSO and SPD converged on the area in an attempt to stop as many of them as possible. However, it wasn’t before several of the suspects got away with what officials are calling “a significant amount of money.”
“From our end of it, when we got that call, it was a perfect storm of a situation and we all worked closely together to bring several of these guys to justice,” Stephenville Police Chief Jason King told The Flash Friday. “We had several accidents, including a major accident on Washington Street, and our officers couldn’t be there. But we’re so grateful to work with guys at the sheriff’s office who can just jump right in to assist. We, and the people of the county, are lucky in that way.”
Records indicate that officers from both departments were notified that individuals were attempting to cash the checks and once the bank hesitated, the forgers took off in various directions.
Sgt. Greg Stewart, Sgt. Cody Keith and Sgt. Cameron Ray responded to the bank, and according to officers on scene, at least one ran next door and into HEB, while another attempted to escape by walking up Washington Street toward Tarleton.
“Sgt. Keith and myself were able to stop a Hispanic male near Family Dollar Store and then I was able to stop a Hispanic female coming out of HEB,” Ray reported Friday afternoon. “Sgt. Stewart was able to local one of the two vehicles used in the scam near Walgreens. Inside that vehicle were more subjects involved and Sgt. Stewart was able to locate two forged checks that were the same as those used in the bank.”
Stephenville PD investigators contacted Harris County Sheriff’s Office and spoke to a criminal investigator who knew every single one of the suspects by name. Two of the suspects admitted to being from the same Houston apartment complex, where one of them told investigators a woman arrived, asked if they wanted to make some money, took their pictures, made fake ids and produced checks with the same names.
They say she drove them to Stephenville and told them they would receive 50 percent of the money if they could cash the checks without getting caught. One of the female suspects tried to tell Sgt. Ray she had been paid for milking cattle, however she couldn’t tell him the name of her employer, the name of the dairy or where the dairy was located.
Ray said there were six subjects in all, three adults and three juveniles, taken into custody and part of the stolen cash was recovered. One of the adults had to be taken to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Stephenville and was later transported to Harris Methodist in Fort Worth for health issues. She remains in the hospital at this time. The other two female adult suspects – identified as Jessica Esmerelda Valdez and Aracely Ramirez – were booked into the Erath County Jail on charges of forgery of a financial instrument and were being held on $15,000 bond each.
All three of the juveniles (two males and a female) were taken to the Hood County Juvenile Detention Center. Two of the juvenile subjects were identified as suspects wanted for questioning in a murder in Harris County. ECSO officials said those two were picked up Friday morning and returned to Houston. All six will face charges in Stephenville, in addition to the many charges several of them are wanted on out of Harris County.
“Our guys (ECSO and SPD) are plug and play – you can fit them in anywhere and they go to work together, and that’s what makes it hard to get away with this kind of thing,” Chief King said. “These were known criminals with ties to a very, very serious gang out of the Houston-area, we aren’t sure why they thought to come to Erath County, but we showed them why it’s a bad idea to try to scam the residents and business around here.”