LEE COUNTY — Dozens of people are accused of stealing at least $60,000 using counterfeit checks from the Lee County School District’s payroll account.
As of Thursday, authorities had arrested 30 suspects and were looking for eight more. None were believed to be current school district employees, according to officials with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Myers Police Department.
The Sheriff’s Office said its 20 suspects had stolen $34,941.67. The 18 suspects in Fort Myers stole an estimated $25,000 to $30,000, police department spokeswoman Shelly Flynn said.
Investigators have not yet determined if or how the suspects know one another, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Stephanie Eller said.
District officials reported the thefts to law enforcement in April after the bank notified them of possible fraud. The counterfeit checks used the school district’s routing and bank account number and contained computer-generated signatures of school personnel, an arrest report said. Law enforcement officials said it was not yet clear how the suspects got that information.
When cashing the checks, many suspects used their real names, Eller said. Detectives used that information as well as surveillance footage from Walmarts and other check cashing stores to identify them. The 30 suspects picked up so far were all arrested in May and June.
It remains unclear exactly how big of a hit the school district and the check cashing merchants will take.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the merchants likely would be liable. School Board member Don Armstrong agreed, saying he believed the bank had caught the fraud in time and that the district would not be responsible.
“It’s very hard to talk about the check scheme because it’s still an ongoing investigation,” Armstrong said.
Another School Board member, Jane Kuckel, said the district might have insurance that would cover any loss.
After the trial, “our focus will be on getting the money back,” she said. “Certainly we will ask for restitution.”
Although the district is projecting a $10 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year, Kuckel said she did not believe the check fraud would impact the budget.
“$60,000 is a small piece of that, but a pretty important piece of that,” she said. “$60,000 is a staff person.”
The superintendent and other district officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The counterfeit case still is considered active, but the Sheriff’s Office believes it has accounted for all the bad checks.
“We’re hopeful that this is the end of this spree,” Eller said.
The following people were arrested and face charges of grand theft and uttering a false instrument:
■ Shanice Kellie Ailien Anderson, 18, Fort Myers
■ Joanie Michelle Barnett, 34, North Fort Myers
■ Tabish Cornell Bellot, 24, Fort Myers
■ Lavonte Demond Dale, 26, Lehigh Acres
■ Charles Paul Dunn, 55, North Fort Myers
■ Hendry Deron Epps, 25, Fort Myers
■ Roshonda Roshelle Franklin, 20, Lehigh Acres
■ Tina Michelle Groff, 27, Lehigh Acres
■ Andra Janay Joyner, 23, Fort Myers
■ Matthew Ryan McDonald, 27, Lehigh Acres
■ Ebony Denise Powell, 23, Lehigh Acres
■ Confesor Garcia Rijo, 27, Fort Myers
■ Thomas Allen Shrum, 36, Cape Coral
■ Everlena Georgia Smith, 24, Fort Myers
■ Diana Kay Thar, 46, North Fort Myers
■ Marcus Keon Hood, 24, Fort Myers
■ William Alexander Lopez-Torres, 23, Fort Myers
■ Tyechia Lakiechia Minnis, 29, Fort Myers
■ Hodges Edward Knight, 31, Fort Myers
■ Sharita Sharta Merricks , 26, Fort Myers
■ Nicole Cox, 34, Fort Myers
■ Kristina Bard, age and address not available
■ Christopher Michael Goff, 26, Fort Myers
■ Jamaal Anthony Young, 24, Fort Myers
■ Justin Tamlex Battle, 28, Fort Myers
■ Virgilio Rijo, 28, Fort Myers
■ Warren Lee Jackson, 31, Fort Myers
■ Thomas Koray Carter, 22, Fort Myers
■ David Lamont Lopez, 38, Moore Haven
■ Jontavius Jarrod Person, 20, Fort Myers
Wanted on a Lee County Sheriff’s Office warrant:
■ Michael J. Farace, 47
■ Crystal Cherrelle Gary, 24
■ Rhonda Luvenia Moore, 31
■ Alexis Rodriguez, 44
■ Archie Jerome Russ, Jr., 22
Wanted for questioning by Fort Myers police:
■ Tenish Ruffin, 28
■ Joseph Byrd, 21
■ Alayna Deleon, 22