$1.3M in donation checks stolen from church mailboxes: feds


A 29-year-old Maryland man pleaded guilty to helping steal over 3,000 donation checks totaling $1.3 million from church mailboxes in North Carolina and elsewhere.

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Over 3,000 checks totaling $1.3 million disappeared from church mailboxes in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland over the course of three years.

Now a 29-year-old man living in Maryland has admitted to his role in the alleged scheme.

Mateus Vaduva, of Baltimore, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bank and wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland said in a news release on Friday, Nov. 19. Vaduva is one of at least seven people accused of raiding church mailboxes with the express intention of stealing donation checks to deposit in various fraudulent bank accounts.

A defense attorney representing Vaduva did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Monday, Nov. 22.

According to documents filed alongside the guilty plea, the alleged fraud lasted from June 2018 to January 2021. Vaduva, who lived in Florida and Maryland at various points during that time, drove up to roadside mailboxes belonging to religious institutions and stole their mail, prosecutors said.

He and other members of the crew then sifted through the stacks in search of donation checks, the government said.

They worked with a bank employee, Diape Seck, to open accounts under fake names where the money could be deposited, prosecutors said. Between August and December 2019, Vaduva is accused of coordinating with Seck to open at least 11 fraudulent bank accounts.

Prosecutors said the group at times used two minor family members to help open the accounts, and Vaduva alone deposited 126 stolen checks worth more than $79,550.

Authorities in Baltimore caught on to the alleged scheme as early as August 2018 when several churches complained about stolen checks, court documents show.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service discovered the checks were all deposited under different names in various bank accounts — all of which had been opened using foreign identification documents, often from Romania, the government said.

According to court filings, investigators were then able to track down the various individuals involved using financial records and bank surveillance footage.

During the federal investigation, one of the banks also reported a former customer service representative to local police in Maryland after the manager noticed a number of checks made out to churches being deposited.

“The manager identified that the checks were being deposited into personal accounts and not accounts in the names of the church payees identified on the checks,” prosecutors said.

That same person was ultimately accused of opening 412 checking accounts at the bank using “predominantly Romanian passports and drivers’ licenses.” Checks written to and from churches all over the country were then deposited into those accounts, according to the government.

Investigators subsequently linked the two cases, and several alleged members of the conspiracy were indicted in October 2020.

Vaduva wasn’t indicted until February, court filings show. He was arrested in May and has remained in federal custody.

As part of his plea agreement, Vaduva and others allegedly involved in the scheme will have to pay at least $1.3 million in restitution. Vaduva also faces up to 30 years in prison when he’s sentenced Feb. 18.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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