How I helped the Secret Service stop a scammer
As seen in The Daily World, Aberdeen, WA
Friday, June 18, 2008
|Something else was cooking at Wendy’s; Harborite helped feds |
|Friday, July 18, 2008 11:05 AM PDT|
Angela Edwards froze for a moment when a coworker brushed past.
The Wendy’s assistant manager feared the other employee at the West Olympia fast food restaurant might have felt the wire she had taped under her clothing.
“It was just a little microphone with a little box,” Edwards said. The device was recording every word being uttered by one of their fellow workers, and U.S. Secret Service agents were waiting outside.
But no, there was no sign the man had caught on, and they kept on filling orders.
Edwards, who lives in Central Park, returned to a conversation with 44-year-old Edna Fiedler, a recent hire who always had entertainingly ridiculous stories — online romances, telephone affairs with retired judges and her history of methamphetamine addiction. She also repeated a story about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit checks she was supposedly trafficking from Nigeria.
“This lady just talked about everything,” Edwards said.
Other employees thought they were just tall tales, but Edwards began to suspect some of them might be for real. She agreed to wear a wire for federal investigators on Nov. 26 in hopes of capturing the check scheme on tape.
Fiedler was obliviously happy to oblige.
“She seemed to want to confide in me,” Edwards said.
The U.S. Secret Service used those recordings, e-mail accounts and seized documents to charge Fiedler with conspiracy to commit bank, wire and mail fraud.
She pleaded guilty on March 14 and was sentenced to two years in prison last month. Five years of probation will follow.
Edwards, a longtime Harborite and former manager of the Aberdeen Jack in the Box, had helped investigators crack the “Nigerian check scam.” Her coworker was shipping hundreds of counterfeit checks to unsuspecting victims each month.
The employees at Wendy’s were used to Fiedler’s stories, including the one about her online “boyfriends” sending her fake checks. But one day the Yelm woman pulled a fraudulent check out of her purse, saying she often shipped whole boxes of them.
“She actually showed me one,” Edwards said. “I held one in my hand.”
Edwards said Fiedler told her about how the “boyfriends” sent her fake checks from Lagos, Nigeria, as part of a scheme to fool people into cashing the checks and funneling money back to them. The woman reportedly told Edwards she didn’t care that she was tricking people out of their money.
“That was pretty shocking to me,” Edwards said.
The assistant manager said she called the Secret Service and a few days later they were fitting her with a wire. They told her to steer the conversation toward any criminal activity.
Edwards said she also helped provide e-mail accounts and Fiedler’s address so agents could execute a search warrant that yielded more than $1 million in fake checks, incriminating documents and mailing supplies to support the online scheme.
The U.S Attorney’s Office would not confirm or deny Edwards’ participation in the investigation, but the office confirmed Fiedler’s role in the scam.
“Fiedler played a critical role in an international scheme to defraud naive individuals,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers. “The scheme was wide-reaching and potentially financially ruinous to its intended victims.”
Investigators identified at least 32 people that Fiedler had tried to con into depositing the checks, court records stated. One woman was forced to repay $1,000 to her bank when her check bounced.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated Fiedler may not have been the “mastermind” or may have been manipulated by romantic intentions, but she was still a key player and a direct beneficiary.
“Fiedler was the domestic conduit,” sentencing papers stated, “receiving counterfeit checks in bulk, printing potential victims’ names on the checks, distributing the checks, and, if the scheme worked, collecting some of the proceeds and forwarding a portion to her co-conspirators overseas.”
U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle told Fiedler the court needed to “send a message” that participating in online or check schemes will result in prison, according to an Attorney’s Office news release.
“The schemes make money at the expense and suffering of others,” Settle said during the June 25 sentencing.
Edwards said Fiedler is still working at the Wendy’s until she has to report to prison. The two have been on separate shifts since the woman discovered Edwards’ cooperation with authorities.
The assistant manager is just happy she could help.
“I’m glad they did something about it,” she said.