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Couple pleads not guilty to check forgery

An Elkton, Minn., couple accused of running a check scamming operation that cost a Colorado woman more than $2,300 pleaded not guilty to criminal charges Thursday.

Arlo Paul Warnke, 44, and Christiana Marie Warnke, 41, each pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony check forgery. They are scheduled to appear again in Mower County court on July 16 for pre-trial hearings, at which point they can maintain their not-guilty pleas and go forward with trials or amend their pleas as part of plea deals.

According to a criminal complaint, the 48-year-old alleged victim from Fort Collins, Colo., notified local authorities late last month about the potential fraud. The Fort Collins Police Department then contacted Mower County authorities on March 29 and reported that two suspicious checks in the name of the alleged victim — one for $2,000, the other for $300 — had been cashed by a “Christy Warnke” and an “Arlo Warnke,” who were listed with the same Elkton address. The Fort Collins woman said she had never met the couple, the complaint states.

She also showed authorities online records of the suspicious checks, which indicated that they had her routing and account numbers, but looked slightly different than her regular checks.

The check to Christiana Warnke was believed to have been cashed at Farmers State Bank in Dexter. Authorities contacted the bank manager, who said the check had in fact been cashed at a Farmers branch in Elkton. Surveillance footage of that transaction was received by authorities in early April, the complaint states.

It is less clear where the check to Arlo Warnke was cashed, because of a hard-to-make-out cashier’s stamp seen in the online records. Authorities did contact a representative of the Farmers branch in Austin, who said Arlo Warnke had tried to cash the check there but was denied by bank staff, the complaint states. However, video footage of that incident could not be found.

On April 8, Mower County authorities executed a search warrant at the Warnke’s 20446 660th Ave. home. Both Arlo and Christiana Warnke were found inside and were arrested. Arlo Warnke told authorities that he shouldn’t have trusted “that guy” but did not elaborate, the complaint states.

He also showed them a cell phone that had an e-mail relating to the check fraud. The e-mail mentioned Belle Fouche, S.D., as well as an individual by the name of “Riesland.” Authorities recognized both references, as the alleged victim had notified Fort Collins police that the first attempt to fraudulently use her account was made by a man named “Riesland” in Belle Fouche, the complaint states.

The search also uncovered “VersaCheck” computer software, which may have been used in the operation, as well as evidence of a number of fraudulent checks. Authorities also found transaction records in the name of each suspect showing wire transfers from the United States to England and Nigeria, the complaint states.

The specifics of how the alleged fraud was committed have not been determined, and Mower County authorities have enlisted the help of federal Internal Revenue Service agents, the complaint states.

Mower County sheriff Terese Amazi said the IRS’ investigation has already begun and indicated that the federal agency likely will take the lead on the case.

A request for information on the status of the investigation was not returned by the IRS.