By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — A Worcester man, believed to be part of a multi-person criminal enterprise that stole $27,000 from the Provident Bank in Amesbury, was ordered held on $5,000 cash bail yesterday after his arraignment at Newburyport District Court.
Miguel Morales, 45, of 25 Crompton St., was charged last November on two counts of larceny over $250 and uttering a false check (two counts) for allegedly cashing two checks, one at each Amesbury branch of the bank, for about $5,000. He is due back in court May 19 for a pretrial hearing. Should Morales post bail, he was ordered to stay away from all Provident Bank branches.
In addition to its main branch in Market Square, the Provident Bank has another location off Haverhill Road (Route 110) across the street from Cumberland Farms.
Where and when Morales was arrested is unclear, as Amesbury police and an Essex County District Attorney spokeswoman said they didn’t know. A call to the Essex County Sheriff Department’s director of communications wasn’t immediately returned.
Morales was one of five people who allegedly brought checks supposedly belonging to Hampton Ford Hyundai of Hampton, N.H., into the two Provident Bank branches over a two-day span and cashed them for a total of $26,931.
According to an Essex County prosecutor, Morales, who has a long history of arrests for heroin distribution, larceny and breaking and entering, was caught on video surveillance cashing what turned out to be fraudulent checks. Initially, Morales expressed interest in settling the matter inside the courtroom immediately. But that was before prosecutors told Judge Allen Swan they would be seeking jail time for Morales.
The defendant had a quick change of heart and was appointed an attorney by Swan.
Court records show that a Provident Bank official alerted Amesbury police shortly after they reported 10 checks belonging to Hampton Ford Hyundai had been fraudulently cashed. Local police were then contacted by Hampton police indicating the same.
The same day, another Provident Bank official called Lt. William Scholtz to report that a man was attempting to cash another Hampton Ford Hyundai check. Scholtz asked bank employees to keep the suspect there until police arrived.
Scholtz wrote that he watched the suspect, wearing a brown suit, at a teller window.
A bank official then handed Scholtz a copy of the suspect’s driver’s license and a check made payable to him in the amount of $1,980.
Scholtz then approached the subject, identified him as a police officer and began questioning him. The suspect, Eric S. Lopriore, 23, of Oxford, told police he was paid $125 to cash the check for someone who didn’t have identification.
“He indicated he did not know the people he was cashing the check for, stating he just met them in Worcester yesterday,” Scholtz wrote in his report.
Lopriore then told Scholtz he would be picked up outside the bank by the man who hired him. Police waited, but a vehicle never showed.
Lopriore was placed under arrest and charged with attempted larceny by check, uttering a false check and possession of a class B substance.
During the booking process, Lopriore told police that he was given the check by three men named Tate, John and Eric, who had picked him up in Worcester and driven him to Amesbury.
Using video surveillance from the bank, police were able to identify Morales along with four other men, John J. Devries, Pedro Velazquez, Antonio Ramos Jr. and John Taylor, all of Worcester, as those cashing fraudulent checks. All but Devries have been arrested and charged, according to Amesbury police.
Checking with Hampton Ford Hyundai, an executive there told Scholtz he didn’t recognize any of the men. Furthermore, he told Scholtz that the checks were not stolen, but made to appear as if they were from the car dealership, according to Scholtz’s report.