CHICAGO (STMW) – Three people have charged after an investigation unraveled a counterfeit check cashing ring which cheated local currency exchanges and Wal-Mart stores out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Benjamin Brown, 28, has been charged with one count of organizing a financial crimes enterprise, a Class X felony, a release from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said. He was also charged with two counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon by a felon after arresting officers found he had two handguns.

Co-defendants DeAngelo Evans, 26, and Tomeka Carlock, 28, are each charged with one count of continuing a financial crimes enterprise, the release said.

All three appeared for a bond hearing Thursday afternoon, with bond set at $750,000 for Brown, $300,000 for Evans and $100,000 for Carlock, the release said.

The arrests were the result of a long-term, joint state’s attorney’s office/U.S. Secret Service investigation dubbed “Operation Paper Hanger.”

According to prosecutors, the defendants would recruit young women to lend their identities, and in some cases their actual payroll checks for counterfeiting, the release said.

Brown, identified as the organizer of the ring, would create a fake payroll check using the women’s actual ID information, the release said.

They would then transport the women to a currency exchange or Wal-Mart store, where the fake checks would be cashed. In exchange, the women would typically get $200 for their services, the release said.

Prosecutors also allege the ring counterfeited and cashed payroll checks issued by various Chicago businesses including A.J. Wright, Addus Healthcare, Outback Steakhouse, Speedway Super America and White Castle, the release said.

Investigators estimate the financial loss to the companies at about $240,000, although the figure might rise as the investigation continues.

The operation also involved assistance from Chicago Police and the Cook County Sheriff’s office, which targeted the production and negotiation of large amounts of counterfeit checks.

A total of 47 people have been convicted of financial crimes related to counterfeiting since the operation started two years ago, the release said.

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