Women sentenced in counterfeit check cashing scheme

A federal judge sent a Florida woman to prison, put a Michigan woman on probation and ordered both to pay restitution Thursday for cashing counterfeit checks in Baton Rouge in March of last year.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson sentenced a shackled Ashockie Lorissa Gambles, 30, of Orlando, Florida, to 33 months in prison but gave her credit for the 14 months she has spent in jail since her arrest, meaning she must serve another 19 months.

Jackson, who said one of Gambles’ co-defendants described her as a ringleader in the counterfeit check-cashing scheme, also ordered Gambles to pay more than $85,000 in restitution to two liquor stores, two convenience stores and a payday loan business.

Gambles pleaded guilty in February to bank fraud.

A perplexed Jackson said Thursday that Gambles was an electrocardiogram technician and wondered why someone with those skills would get involved in cashing counterfeit checks. He surmised she was trying to “make a quick buck.”

One of Gambles’ co-defendants — Chynna Chanae Lacrell Pitts, 20, of the Detroit area — pleaded guilty in January to passing counterfeit checks.

Jackson on Thursday put Pitts, who faced a prison term of six to 12 months, on probation for two years. She was eligible for probation, the judge said.

“I have definitely learned from this,” Pitts, who spent 30 days in jail after her arrest, told the judge.

Jackson ordered her to pay more than $38,000 in restitution.

In March, the judge sentenced another woman involved in the scheme — Malissa Monay Lana Farrell, 22, of Romulus, Michigan — to six months in prison and ordered her to pay more than $39,000 in restitution. She pleaded guilty in November to passing counterfeit securities.

Prosecutors said Gambles, Pitts and Farrell flew into Baton Rouge in March 2013 to cash tens of thousands of dollars in counterfeit checks.

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.

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