16 charged in ‘complex’ St. Tammany check fraud scheme

COVINGTON, La. — Sixteen people have been charged with racketeering and bank fraud for their respective roles in a “complex” check fraud scheme that targeted local law enforcement agencies and businesses, according to St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Warren Montgomery.

Montgomery announced the in a 89-count indictment at a press conference Friday morning. He said they were a result of a year-long investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies.

The indictment alleges that between January and August 2017, the suspects operated as the BME Mafia, which was led by 40-year-old Willie Mack Cauley.

Cauley, a rapper who runs an enterprise known as BlakMaze Entertainment, reportedly recruited people to steal confidential information that would be used to produce counterfeit checks. With help from associates in Baton Rouge, the checks counterfeit checks were cashed from the bank accounts of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Diamond Sharp Contracting Group, Blue Ridge of Sumpter, Ross Dress for Less, Rack Room Shoes, and other bank accounts.

The suspects called themselves the Nike gang, referring to the Nike check logo.

Authorities said the stolen money was used to bail people out of jail and to purchase studio time for recording sessions, among other things.

Cauley moved to St. Tammany Parish in August 2016 after the Baton Rouge flood.

At least 16 counterfeit checks worth $30,000 were cashed through the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office account. Other victims in St. Tammany and Washington parishes had a collective $15,000 stolen. All losses were reimbursed by the banks involved.

“The criminal acts of financial fraudsters cause enormous damage to unsuspecting individuals and banks,” Montgomery said. “Check counterfeiting has reached epidemic levels as thieves become more sophisticated … Cooperative endeavors from multiple law enforcement agencies brought down this criminal enterprise.”

Cauley is behind bars on a $1 million bond. Bond for the others indicted is set at $200,000. Check back for a full list of suspects and charges.