NAUGATUCK — A Naugatuck man called a “human crime spree” by a prosecutor was arraigned Tuesday on an array of charges stemming from alleged drug dealing and a check cashing scheme that he is believed to have advertised on Facebook.
The investigation began earlier this year when Ion Bank Director of Financial Crimes Robert Voets told police that someone had cashed or attempted to deposit a total of 16 fraudulent checks, for a loss of $17,630 to the bank. He said the checks were presented at bank locations in Waterbury and Naugatuck.
Voets said the personal checks belonged to a Torrington woman but were issued to other people.
Police said they talked to all of the people who cashed the checks; several of them told police that Francis Santo had asked them to cash the checks for him at Ion Bank in exchange for a cut of the money.
Santo also tried to lure people into cashing checks for him through social media, according to police. A Facebook message he posted on Feb. 5 states: “Who’s Trying To Cash Out From Waterbury/Naugy???? Inbox Me.”
Police noted the Facebook message in an arrest warrant and stated it was next to a photo of a shoe box filled with cash.
Ion Bank later notified the people who cashed the checks that the checks came from a closed account, and that they were responsible for the amount of the check, according to a police affidavit. Consequently, the accounts of those who cashed the checks were overdrawn, according to the affidavit.
Police charged Santo with six counts of third-degree forgery, six counts of identity theft and second-degree larceny. He is also suspected of using a credit card stolen from a Waterbury woman at businesses in Naugatuck, then using her account to cash yet another stolen check.
Since last year, Naugatuck police have investigated numerous criminal cases in which they believe Santo was involved.
After hearing that he was selling marijuana, police sent a criminal informant to his house at 20 Diamond St., Unit 2F, in May 2013 with a $10 bill to buy a small amount of marijuana.
A month later, police sent a second informant to the home who was wearing a wire and carrying a $20 bill, which he was supposed to use to buy what Santo claimed were hallucinogenic mushrooms, police said. He came out with chocolate-covered mushrooms, which police later determined were not illegal drugs.
The following month, police went to his house armed with a warrant for a probation violation. While at the house, police said they found 45.9 grams of marijuana and eight ecstasy pills. Santo told police he sells marijuana but that the ecstasy pills were for his personal use, according to a police report. Police said they also found $328 cash in his pockets.
Santo was charged with several drug-related crimes.
Santo was arraigned Tuesday in Waterbury Superior Court. In ticking off the list of cases he faced, prosecutor Joseph Danielowski described Santo as a “human crime wave.”
Danielowski asked Judge Ingrid Moll to maintain bonds totaling about $50,000 that were set on the case by authorities, saying the amounts were in the interest of protecting society.
Santo, who was still detained as of Tuesday afternoon, is expected back in court next month.