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Check fraud artist sentenced to 5 years, must pay restitution

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000


CARROLLWOOD -- A man investigators regard as the biggest check fraud artist in Florida was sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution.

Though he didn't have a job, 31-year-old Andrew Stephens was known for his lavish lifestyle at his Carrollwood home, 10749 Glen Ellen Drive, said Hillsborough sheriff's Detective Pam Hall. Hall said she was pleased by the sentence imposed May 19 by U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.

Merryday sentenced Stephens to 57 months in prison, followed by five years' probation. He was also ordered to pay $208,000 in restitution. Stephens pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to make, possess and utter counterfeit checks, as well as to bank fraud.

The verdict, Hall said, came almost three years to the day she began investigating Stephens for defrauding companies and individuals of millions of dollars.

"I think he got what he deserved," Hall said. "I think he realizes identity fraud and check fraud are not going to be tolerated."

Stephens' attorney could not be reached for comment.

Federal prosecutors said Stephens ran an elaborate network that recruited gay and transsexual men. The transsexuals used their shifting masculine and feminine appearances to assume both male and female identities to fraudulently open bank accounts and cash checks.

Stephens is gay, though not a transsexual. Hall worked with police in St. Petersburg and Tampa as well as the U.S. Secret Service after learning of Stephens' fraud network in May 1997.

Stephens and eight others were indicted in March of 1999.

At his sentencing hearing, Hall said, Stephens appeared stunned.

"I don't think he was expecting the high end" of the guideline range to apply, Hall said.

-- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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