Jacob R. Choate, 27, of Augusta and more recently of Tucson, Arizona, on Monday pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Bangor to defrauding roughly a dozen banks in central and southern Maine, including the Bank of Maine as well as two Bangor Savings Bank sites and a TD Bank location in Augusta.

Choate, who pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud, faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. He will be sentenced after a pre-sentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Moore, said in a news release.

Choate defrauded more than 10 banks in central and southern Maine from July 4 to Aug. 7, 2014, by writing nine counterfeit checks and cashing eight altered checks. Moore said the U.S. Postal Service uncovered Choate’s involvement in the scheme while investigating complaints of stolen mail and reports of cashed stolen checks. Video surveillance cameras at the banks captured Choate as he cashed, or attempted to cash, each check.

Police departments in Augusta, Portland, Saco and Scarborough assisted with the investigation.

Choate, who had been in custody in Arizona, was brought to Bangor and entered the plea in front of Judge John A. Woodcock Jr.

He previously was convicted in state court in Maine on charges of assault, unlawful possession of drugs and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.

According to published reports, Choate was arrested in January 2015 in Tucson and charged with aggravated robbery in connection with the theft of $2,000 worth of purses from a department store. He had been held at the Pima County Adult Detention Center in Tucson until he was brought to Maine.

The Maine bank fraud charge says, “In executing the scheme to defraud, the defendant or another participant in the scheme knowingly and willfully stole outgoing or incoming mail including checks from letter boxes, mail receptacles and other authorized depositories for mail matter, fraudulently washed or altered the stolen checks, or manufactured and forged counterfeit checks with use of stolen account numbers. … ” The defendant then cashed the altered checks at various banks and divided the money with another person.

Most of the 11 checks cashed were altered to include Choate’s Augusta address, and some had his driver’s license number, which had been written on them by the teller who cashed the check.

According to the prosecution’s version of events, “The total amount originally set forth on the stolen altered and/or counterfeit checks was $9,658.80. The total amount (loss and intended loss) for the checks is $28,656.90.”

Choate’s defense attorney in Maine is Matthew S. Erickson. No one answered the phone at his office late Monday afternoon.

A codefendant in the case, Ryan Pomerleau, 32, of Augusta, was sentenced in June to four years in federal prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal mail and theft of mail. He was ordered to pay nearly $88,000 in restitution.

Pomerleau was charged in the theft ring in October 2014 when, according to an affidavit from U.S. Postal Inspector Michael Desrosiers, the investigation began after Augusta police arrested a third man on burglary charges in July 2014 and recovered mail that was addressed to several businesses on Industrial Drive in Augusta and that had been discarded in a dumpster at a motel where he lived.

Later, investigators executed a search warrant at a hotel room in Seabrook, New Hampshire, where Pomerleau lived, seizing counterfeit checks, typewriters and other evidence linking Pomerleau to the theft.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

 


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