More than $20,000 worth of merchandise has been returned to merchants in the Destin Commons complex with the arrests of Kimberly Giacchi, age 39, and her daughter, Jeanette Margaret Zelinski, age 17, both of Syracuse, New York.
The two were taken into custody at Destin Commons, after employees at two stores, Bombay and Cargo Kids, became suspicious of the checks used to make major purchases.
An Okaloosa County Sheriff's Deputy, working an off-duty security detail at the complex, spotted the suspects' U-Haul truck.
Zelinski is charged with Grand Theft, Uttering a Forged Instrument, and
Possession of a Counterfeit Instrument. Giacchi is charged as a principal to Grand Theft and Uttering a Forged Instrument and with Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor.
Additional charges are pending as the investigation continues. So far, 16 victim businesses, all in the Destin Commons area, have been identified as victims of the bogus check scheme.
Giacchi's former husband, Stefan Lamar Ripley, age 34 (9-15-1969), was arrested on a Violation of Probation warrant related to traffic offenses in Escambia County (Pensacola).
Another passenger in the truck, an 8 year old child, was turned over to the custody of the Department of Children and Families. No charges have been filed at this time against a fifth family member, who was
also a passenger in the truck.
Checks used to make the fraudulent purchases may have been printed on equipment found in the rented truck. The names "Romella Bantrain" and "Bantrain Physical Therapy" were printed on many of the checks, which were drawn on a non-existent Mellon Bank in Locust Hill, Virginia.
It is believed the group had been in the local area only a few days, after traveling as far north as New York State and as far west as California.
Fraudulent purchases may have been made in a dozen or more states.