Police: Rock Hill businessman passed $100K altered check

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comMay 30, 2013 

— A Rock Hill businessman is accused of knowingly passing a $100,000 check and depositing it into a personal bank account, according to police.

Bernard Gaston, who is at the center of a police and State Law Enforcement Division investigation into a car fraud scheme that cheated customers out of cars and money, was arrested Wednesday and charged with fraud against a financial institution and forgery.

A Wells Fargo fraud investigator supplied documents to police showing that earlier this month, Gaston, 47, deposited a check officials suspect was stolen from the mail and altered, according to a Rock Hill Police report.

The check was originally made payable to SOFHA Real Estate Partners, a realty group in Tennessee, in the amount of $106,666.48, the report shows.

The man who the check belonged to leased property from the company and was making a payment before the check was stolen in the mail, said Rock Hill Police Detective Dave Hanoka.

Gaston is not suspected of stealing the check from the mail or altering the check, Hanoka said.

Instead, police say he knew the check had been altered and still deposited it into his account, Hanoka said. Gaston told police how he got the check, but Hanoka could not elaborate, saying it was part of the investigation.

When Gaston deposited the check into his account, the check had been made payable to MGB LLC, which court documents show is a bank account Gaston used to deposit funds after receiving money from people who trusted him to purchase cars for them. Once the altered check was deposited, Wells Fargo detected three withdrawals from the account totaling a little more than $95,000. Wells Fargo determined the check to be fraudulent, police say.

Authorities reviewed surveillance video from the bank showing Gaston depositing the check, Hanoka said.

Police issued warrants for Gaston and arrested him Wednesday.

Other people are suspected in connection with the investigation, Hanoka said, adding that the U.S. Postal Service is probing the “broader scope” of the incident, which includes mail fraud.

In March, Gaston, his wife, family members and other associates were arrested and charged after a joint investigation by Rock Hill Police, the State Law Enforcement Division and state Department of Motor Vehicles resulted in 45 warrants.

Those warrants and police documents allege that Gaston and his associates received title loans and put them on cars that they then put on the lot of Big A’s Auto Sales on Cherry Road. The cars were then sold to unassuming customers who didn’t realize they were purchasing cars with liens.

The customers were never able to receive their car titles or tags.

Others have alleged that Gaston never refunded their money after they paid him for cars he was supposed to buy for them at auction. Three of those victims filed lawsuits against Gaston this year, claiming that he took their money without providing the cars he promised them, court documents show.

Gaston’s attorney, Rock Hill lawyer Michael Matthews, declined to comment.

Late Thursday, Gaston was in jail at the Rock Hill Law Center on a $100,000 bond.

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