A traffic stop initiated by Visalia narcotics detectives led to the arrest of three suspects, who police say stole thousands of dollars from major retailers by passing bad checks up and down the state.
Visalia narcotics officers stopped the vehicle in the area of Highway 198 and Highway 99 and discovered several forged checks and identity theft-related items in the car.
Officers also found numerous items purchased at local stores using the bad checks, according to police. The suspects, who police said were sophisticated in their techniques, are most likely a part of larger criminal fraud and forgery ring.
The suspects used forged business checks to buy things at Home Depot, Orchard Supply Hardware, Sears and Office Depot and then return the items for a cash refund at a location in a different city, according to police.
The estimated loss to the four businesses in Visalia was $4,000, but police said the suspects have been linked to crimes from Southern California to Fresno.
Officers arrested Luis Martinez, 29, and Frank Palomares, 29, both of southern California on suspicion of passing forged checks, possession of forged identifications, burglary and identity theft-related crimes.
“Being a criminal is their profession. It’s a way of life,” said Visalia Sgt. Amy Watkins. “They go up and down California doing this, and making money. When they get caught, they’re released and start all over.”
Narcotics officers worked with detectives from Fresno Police Department as well as detectives from Visalia’s property crimes unit to track down the suspects, who’d been staying in Fresno.
In hopes of finding additional evidence for prosecution, detectives served a search warrant later in the day Thursday at a Holiday Inn in downtown Fresno.
In the room, police found Marie Galaviz, 33, of southern California, as well as a computer, printer and external hard drive. All of which were seized by police.
Galaviz was arrested and booked on fraud, forgery and identity theft crimes.
She also had an outstanding warrant, according to police.
Police added that Palomares initially gave police a fake identification, but fingerprints taken during the jail booking process led to his real identity and showed he was a parolee-at-large.
Police had been investigating the suspects prior to the traffic stop that led to their arrest.