COLUMBUS — A federal grand jury in Omaha has returned indictments against two Columbus men accusing the pair of engaging in a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud involving more than $4 million in counterfeit money orders and cashier’s checks in 2010-11.
Howard Barta, 51, and Dennis Wood, 58, were each charged with 24 separate fraud counts in connection with a scheme to defraud hundreds of victims who advertised items for sale on Craigslist, according to information released by U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg’s Office in Omaha.
Barta and Wood each face one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, 15 counts of mail fraud and eight counts of wire fraud in what the prosecution claims was a 15-month plot beginning in January 2010.
The grand jury’s indictment accuses the Columbus men of contacting people from throughout the United States who had advertised items for sale on Craigslist and would agree to buy the item and send payment for it.
The defendants, the prosecution contends, would then send a counterfeit cashier’s check or money order to victims that greatly exceeded the sale price of the Craigslist item.
The victim would be instructed to deposit the counterfeit items into the victim’s bank account and send the extra money back to the defendants, the indictment charges.
Barta and Wood are accused of mailing out approximately 4,478 counterfeit money orders and cashier’s checks to nearly 1,900 victims while attempted to cause losses totaling $4,633,476.
Each of the 24 charges carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.