A Leesburg man who was being sought by Fruitland Park police in connection with a fraud case is behind bars in the Lake County Jail.
Lake County sheriff’s deputies arrested 56-year-old William Fitzgerald Seward on Wednesday morning. He is accused of passing a fraudulent check at a Fruitland Park bank and possibly others in the surrounding area.
Fruitland Park Police Det. Brian Hilberer started investigating the case on May 7 after a Wildwood business owner told Sumter County sheriff’s deputies that four of his checks had been duplicated and cashed at several different locations, including the Citizens First Bank branch on U.S. Hwy. 27/441 in Fruitland Park.
The check was made out to “Tommy Ramos” in the amount $975.45 and was cashed on April 29 shortly after 2 p.m. The victim said he didn’t know anyone by that name and provided sheriff’s deputies with copies of the checks and a sworn statement indicating he wished to prosecute.
Hilberer spoke with a fraud investigator from Citizens First Bank, who said the checks also were cashed at branches in The Villages, Wildwood and Leesburg. She gave Hilberer the original fraudulent check, which had a Florida driver’s license number written on the back. She also provided video surveillance footage of the transaction.
The video clearly showed a man matching Seward’s description wearing a black T-shirt; black-and-white shorts; a red baseball cap and black, white and yellow shoes. He is shown walked up to the drive-through window and completing the fraudulent transaction. He also touched the window and windowsill several times during the transaction.
The driver’s license number on the check came back to Tommy Ramos of Tampa. He wasn’t the person seen on the video footage and Hilberer later learned from a Leesburg Police officer who was investigating a similar case that Ramos was in the Hillsborough County Jail for an unrelated charge, a Fruitland Park Police report states.
Hilberer was able to locate and pull several latent fingerprints from the bank’s window and windowsill. Upon reviewing additional video footage, he noticed a red Dodge Ram pickup with a chrome grill and bumpers drive west on Palm Avenue past the bank. The footage showed the truck come back by the bank and drop off the man believed to Seward. The truck was then spotted sitting across the street in the parking lot of the Fruitland Park Plaza until the fraudulent transaction was completed, the report says.
Hilberer received an anonymous tip on May 20 after posting information about the case on the police department’s Facebook page. The tipster identified the person in the Facebook photos as Seward and after verifying his identity through several databases, Hilberer rode past his apartment on Park Circle in Leesburg and saw him sitting on the front porch, the report says.
Several days after a witness who was locked up in the Sumter County Jail positively identified Seward, he was arrested and charged with passing a forged/altered instrument, fraud (impersonation, use, possession of identification of another person without consent), forgery, two counts of grand theft and theft/use of personal information. He was being held on $12,000 bond and is due in court June 22 at 8:30 a.m. to answer to the charges.