MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- It started with a stolen check, and ended with a massive undercover sting operation.
"We were contacted by the attorneys of a real estate management firm in the suburbs of a tax refund check that they were missing," U.S. Postal Inspector Michael Van de Putte said.
The check was valued at more than $900,000.
"Checks like the one in this case of approximately $955,000 are not often negotiated at your local bank branch," Van de Putte said.
However, the IRS-issued check was stolen within a day.
"After an investigation, we found someone attempted to create a bank account in the name of that business and cash that check," Van de Putte said.
The mastermind, named Dion Franklin, paid a young woman to open the account and then asked her to deposit the check the next day. Postal inspectors quickly nabbed that person and enlisted her in their effort to find the others involved.
"This person decided to cooperate with us, as it was in their best interest, and agreed to wear a surveillance device and attempt to get the mastermind," Van de Putte said.
Inspectors then set up a meeting.
"They began talking for 40 minutes and on several different occasions mentioned the check and why she hadn`t gotten her money yet. Why the check hadn`t been cashed. What went wrong?" Van de Putte said.
And then, a bizarre twist.
"He then tried to turn around and blame everything on the informant, which forced us to do lie detector tests on both individuals and the scheme came out that he was the mastermind and was the one who came up with the idea," Van de Putte said.
Inspectors say the lead criminal often takes advantage of those less fortunate.
"I got a quick way to make $50 or $100 or even up to $500 all you have to do is open this bank account and use your name and they put themselves in the line of fire," Van de Putte said.
Franklin pleaded guilty to theft and embezzlement of public funds. He is going to spend 18 months in jail.