Three women named in counterfeiting indictment

Three women from Florida and Michigan are alleged to have flown into Baton Rouge in March to cash $77,348 in counterfeit checks at two liquor stores, two convenience stores and a payday loan business.

Each of those 10 checks was cashed on either March 6 or March 7.

All were written for either $7,613 or $7,856, according to the women’s indictment, which resulted from a U.S. Secret Service investigation. That indictment, obtained by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rene I. Salomon, was made public Thursday.

Defendants in the counterfeit check indictment are Ashockie Lorissa Gambles, 29, of Orlando, Fla.; Chynna Chanae Lacrell Pitts, 19, the Detroit area; and Malissa Monay Lana Farrell, 21, Romulus, Mich.

None of the women could be located for comment Thursday.

Each woman is accused of bank fraud and passing counterfeit securities.

Two of the bogus checks were cashed at Quality Express convenience store, 1526 N. Foster Drive, whose corporate owners pleaded guilty March 15 to charges of money laundering and failure to file federally required reports on cash transactions in excess of $10,000.

Those corporate owners are Katelyn & Claire Inc. and Alex T. Inc.

Quality Express’ founder, Thang Minh “Tommy” Tran, has pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to launder money and two counts of money laundering. He has not yet been sentenced.

According to the indictment, Gambles and other unnamed individuals created the counterfeit checks for Pitts and Farrell to cash.

Gambles then arranged for Pitts and Farrell to fly into Baton Rouge, paid for their hotel rooms and drove them to businesses in the Baton Rouge area where the checks were cashed.

Acting U.S. Attorney Walt Green said the case remains under investigation.

Quality Express has been investigated by the IRS and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for at least three years, federal court records show.

IRS Special Agent Andre Guilott said in an affidavit last year that Tran had used the convenience store for years to launder money for drug dealers.

Tran charged the dealers and other customers 1 percent to change their small bills into hundreds, Guillot said.

The IRS agent added Tran charged drug dealers 3 percent to move their money out of Louisiana.

Guilott quoted an undercover DEA agent as saying Tran had offered to sell him “30 to 40 pounds of ‘purple weed’ (marijuana) per week at $4,500 per pound.”

The same agent, Guilott wrote, said Tran bragged “he sells Ecstasy at places like Louisiana State University and the University of Oklahoma.”

According to Guilott’s affidavit, Quality Express deposited and withdrew more than $220 million through two bank accounts between July 2006 and December 2011.

The firm’s corporate owners forfeited $992,462 that was in those accounts when they were frozen by court order.

Two former Quality Express employees, brothers Son “Tatoo” Nguyen, 39, of Baton Rouge, and Thahn “Money” Nguyen, 30, of New Orleans, pleaded guilty to a charge that they distributed Ecstasy.

The Nguyen brothers admitted in court records they sold 1,000 tablets of Ecstasy in the Quality Express parking lot on Feb. 25, 2009.

Son Nguyen is serving a 57-month prison term; Thahn Nguyen is serving 27 months.