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Valley Man Among 6 Arrested

Sting: Suspects are being held in Ventura County Jail after an undercover investigation of a travelers check scam.&

December 06, 1997|SCOTT STEEPLETON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — Six men accused in a counterfeit travelers check scam were being held Friday at County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail each after authorities arrested them in a sting.

Det. Mike Christensen with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department said the men had been passing phony $100 Thomas Cook travelers checks at Thousand Oaks shops and mall stores for more than a year.

The London-based Thomas Cook Group is the world's largest supplier of travelers checks outside the U.S.

Only about 200 of the fraudulent checks have been spotted in the rest of the U.S. "Why 530 showed up here I can't explain," Christensen said.

Authorities are still trying to determine who printed the checks, which were described as high quality. Christensen said at least one of those arrested in Thursday's sting, Emilio Viota, 48, of Moreno Valley, was a major supplier.

The arrests, which capped a yearlong investigation, resulted from an effort by undercover sheriff's detectives and the U.S. Secret Service to buy $100,000 worth of counterfeit checks.

"We set ourselves up as a group who would in turn sell them on a street level," Christensen said.

The sting took place in a Thousand Oaks strip mall parking lot about 3 p.m. Authorities arrested three men and recovered $53,000 in phony checks, Christensen said.

They then headed south to the San Fernando Valley, where three more men, including Viota, were arrested.

In addition, authorities arrested George Bahamondes, 35, of South Gate; Moises Mora, 32, of Hawthorne; Pedro Mejia, 22, of Van Nuys; Juan Pena, 32, of Culver City; and Pedro Villarroel, 37, of Santiago, Chile.

All were being held on suspicion of conspiracy and counterfeiting.

Christensen warned businesses that an additional 600 counterfeit travelers checks are still in circulation. They bear the numbers PE66-598-417; PE66-598-418; and PE66-598-419.

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