Vanessa Belotte of Coral Springs, Florida was arrested Tuesday after she allegedly forged clients’ checks at a law firm where she once worked, news sources report. She reportedly cashed the checks or used them to pay her bills, ultimately defrauding the firm’s clients out of nearly $25,000. Belotte, 29, was booked into the Broward County Main Jail on charges grand theft. Her bail bond was set at $25,000. It is not yet known whether she has obtained a defense lawyer.
According to reports, between February and October 2012, Belotte worked as a secretary at The Law Offices of Fuentes & Berrio, LLP on Hillsboro Boulevard. “[Belotte’s] fraudulent activities amount to $24,916.30,” a spokesperson from the firm told reporters. “However, the final amount of loss may increase, as it is difficult to ascertain at the present time whether any additional forged checks will be discovered.”
One of the firm’s partners released this statement following the arrest: “Fuentes & Berrio are working closely with the few clients involved, as well as law enforcement, during this ongoing investigation and assure that the clients will ultimately suffer no economic loss.”
The firm discovered the alleged fraud in November 2012, after Belotte had left her position at the offices. The firm’s owners discovered that Belotte forged as many as nine checks that were intended for the firm’s clients. The checks never made it to the clients. Most of the checks were apparently for funds won through settlements or lawsuits.
Reports say Belotte forged the client’s names on the checks and cashed them for herself. In once such incident, Belotte reportedly contacted a client and said the firm no longer wanted to assist him in settling a case with an insurance company. However, after contacting that client, Belotte allegedly called the client’s insurance company and settled the case. The insurance company mailed the firm a settlement check, which Belotte allegedly forged a signature on and kept for herself.
Detectives later spoke with a number of clients who should have gotten checks from the law firm. The clients said “they did not receive their checks and that their signatures were forged,” a police report indicates. In addition to the forged checks, detectives discovered that Belotte made five fraudulent debit transactions using a client’s bank account in October 2012. Belotte used the account to send three payments of $700 to Florida Power & Light and two payments of $521 to Comcast.
Detectives searched Belotte’s desk following the fraud discovery and found “notepads where she practiced [writing] client’s signatures.” The detectives also found “incriminating correspondence” on Belotte’s office computer. In all, detectives say at least 11 of the firm’s clients were affected by the fraud.
Statistics show checks are one of the most targeted payment options for fraud in the United States. An ABA Deposit Account Fraud Survey showed that 73% of U.S. banks reported losses as part of check fraud in 2010, with an estimated loss of $893 million. Attempted check fraud against bank deposit accounts cost banks an estimated $11 billion in 2010.
Sources: 3.3.13 Belotte Check Fraud.pdf