Leader of $3M check theft, bank fraud scheme in Charlotte area sentenced to prison

CHARLOTTE — The leader in a $3 million check-stealing fraud scheme was sentenced to prison on Tuesday, authorities announced.

Terrell Devon Freeman, 35, was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison with three years of supervised release. His two co-conspirators were also sentenced -- Joshua MacDavid Monteith, 32, will spend nearly four years in prison with three years of supervised release, and 23-year-old Yanalise Simone Hodge was ordered to serve two years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

From October 2020 until September 2021, Freeman was the mastermind of a bank fraud scheme, according to court documents. The operation spanned North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, defrauding at least seven banks, the U.S. Attorney for North Carolina’s Western District said.

Court documents say Freeman, Monteith and Hodge used a stolen U.S. Postal Service key to open USPS collection boxes in the Charlotte area, stealing checks from them. They got the key after the armed robbery of a postal worker in November 2020.

Then, the trio cashed the stolen checks using fake identifications and straw bank accounts, authorities said. Between the 86 stolen checks they deposited and tried to deposit, the funds totaled $3 million.

Monteith was arrested Sept. 26, 2021 after he used the USPS key to open a Ballantyne collection box. He had 58 stolen checks in his car totaling more than $19,000.

Investigators said Freeman was arrested in Atlanta on Oct. 4, 2021 with about 1,500 stolen checks in his car totaling more than $1.5 million.

Freeman, Monteith, and Hodge each pleaded guilty to bank fraud conspiracy. In addition to sentencing them, a judge ordered Freeman to pay more than $394,000 as restitution.

Man pleads guilty in $200K bank fraud case after stealing checks from mail

Jeffrey Monteith pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to conspiracy to commit bank fraud after prosecutors said he stole more than $200,000 from more than 10 victims.

Court documents indicate the crimes that started in July of 2021, when Monteith and others used a stolen master key to steal mail and obtain checks from U.S. Postal Service collection boxes around Charlotte.

Then, federal prosecutors said that Monteith and his co-conspirators used the stolen checks as templates to make counterfeit checks.

Court documents show Monteith and his co-conspirators stole more than $200,000 from multiple victims over a timespan of several months. Prosecutors said Monteith and others who helped him would deposit the checks into funnel bank accounts in Huntersville, Cornelius and Charlotte. Court documents said Monteith would then get cash out of ATMs before banks could catch the fraud.

No sentencing date was set for Monteith.

The maximum penalty for the crime is 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine and a period of supervised release.

“Well, (it) has me concerned,” said Wilfred, a man who was leaving a post office in uptown. “I’ve always believed the postal service was safe.”

Wilfred and others were rattled by the latest case of fraud targeting people’s mail.

“I will stop using the drop-off boxes for now, because I think that is a major problem,” Wilfred said.

Residents Mika and Dong Kim said the case angered them because they use the post office often. Mika Kim said that she uses online banking and makes payments online.

>>Watch Channel 9′s LIVE STREAM wherever you are, at this link

Dong Kim said he is more worried about people, such as his parents, who still send checks via the mail.

“I know how hard my parents work for that money and when somebody thinks that they can just rip other people off without having to work for that money, like everybody else is doing – anger runs through my mind,” he said.

There are some ways to prevent this crime from happening to you. Routinely check your bank account, and drop off mail inside the post office.

(VIDEO: Charlotte man sentenced in mail-theft scheme involving more than 540 victims)