3 charged in racketeering case involving checks stolen from Bethlehem Twp. business

3 charged in racketeering case involving checks stolen from Bethlehem Twp. business

Three people are facing charges tied to a corrupt organizations case involving the theft of checks from the mail of a local business and the recruitment of people on Facebook to allow the stolen paper to be deposited and then withdrawn from their bank accounts, court papers say.

Shyazya Dasine Baston, 18, of Tobyhanna; Nathan Corey Bastien, 21, of Allentown; and Janiece Angeliq Vazquez, 20, of Allentown, each faces 60 felony charges, headed by six counts of being an employee of a corrupt organization and six more counts of conspiracy to do the same, Bethlehem Township police said in court papers. None of the three was in custody as of Thursday.

The investigation is continuing, Northampton County Deputy District Attorney James Augustine told lehighvalleylive.com. The point of corrupt organizations charges is to allow investigators to drill up from the initial petty crimes such as thefts and get at those running the operation, he explained. A corrupt organization doesn’t need to be of a specific size, he said, it just needs to derive something of value from unlawful activities. The charges are generically referred to as “racketeering” in court papers.

Baston was posting on Facebook asking people, in return for money, to either to submit their bank account information or to open a new bank account in order for checks stolen from Star Auto Mall LLC’s mail to be deposited in those accounts, court papers say.

Once Baston had Vazquez’s information — including her social security number and bank card pin — she put Vazquez in touch with Bastien, to whom she was supposed to supply her ATM card, court papers say. Bastien, who police say is a member of a Bloods street gang sect, could do the rest of the work via a cellphone app, court papers say. Once money was in an account, Bastien was to withdraw it from an ATM, police said.

Vazquez provided Baston screenshots of the login passcode so Baston could deposit checks into Vazquez’s account, police said. Vazquez also sent Baston screenshots showing mobile deposits of $7,892.46 and $4,795.64, court papers say.

Those images were forwarded to another person, police said.

In all, $24,497.27 from four checks from the car dealer was deposited into Vazquez’s account at Truist Bank, police said. Another $8,213.16 was deposited into accounts in two other people’s names at Chase Bank and Bank of America, police said. Vazquez was paid in various ways, township police Investigator Jeremy Anderson said. The checks were “washed” with the pay-to information deleted as well as the amount, Anderson said. Once they were clean, a person’s name, such as Vazquez, was added to the pay-to part to allow for deposit and the amount was greatly inflated, Anderson said.

Star Auto Mall, which is based in the 3700 block of Nazareth Pike, alerted authorities in late November about the fraudulent checks, police said.

The trio is also charged with six counts of knowledge that property is proceeds of an illegal act, six counts of conspiracy to do the same, six counts of deception by false impression, six counts of conspiracy to do the same, six counts of forgery, six counts of conspiracy to do the same, six counts of receiving stolen property and six counts of conspiracy to do the same.

There weren’t listed phone numbers for any of the three. Star Auto Mall declined comment.

As of March 7, Baston was still on Facebook offering $20,000 for people to open new accounts, police said.

There are many other people who also allowed their bank accounts to be used and they are under investigation — a probe that reaches into various places around the state and into New Jersey, Anderson said.

Corrupt organizations cases are rare in the Lehigh Valley, Augustine said, but they allow authorities “to go after the organization as a whole” and get to those who benefit from the proceeds through “support and encouragement”.

These cases are another take on the thefts from mailboxes and “check washing” in the same vicinity that led in late 2021 to charges against three New Jersey residents. The two cases are not related at this point, Andreson said.

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