PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- More than 80 people are facing grand theft, money laundering and conspiracy charges after a massive mail theft investigation revealed they stole nearly $5 million from hundreds of victims across California, authorities announced on Friday.
According to the California Attorney General's Office, a large bank fraud scheme, which began in 2018 and continued for several years, involved suspects allegedly depositing altered checks stolen from the U.S. Mail into various bank accounts.
Those behind the scheme recruited individuals on social media and got them to open bank accounts - or utilized the individuals' own checking accounts - to try to conceal their identities when depositing the forged checks, officials said.
"The suspects would swiftly withdraw the money before the financial institution discovered the checks were forged," said Carroll Harris with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Los Angeles.
California Attorney General's Rob Bonta said there were a total of 769 victims.
"Hundreds of families whose hard-earned money was brazenly stolen by criminals," said Bonta. "We're talking about birthday checks from grandma, paychecks."
A total of 34 teams from local, state, and federal agencies made 56 arrests, many of which were made in Los Angeles County and surrounding counties.
"Arrest warrants were executed at approximately 75 locations within Los Angeles and surrounding counties," said Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
He said 47 of those arrests were in the L.A. area. Four suspects were already in jail and were additionally charged.
Villanueva also said the ringleaders and suspects in the alleged scheme are reported members of "two notorious L.A. County criminal street gangs."