By Jim Kelly
Patriot Ledger Staff
QUINCY – A mysterious foreigner with a false identity. Forged million-dollar checks. A controversial church leader who hasn’t been seen for eight years. A California private detective who’s offering $100,000 for information.
It sounds like a plot from your average TV show or cheap paperback thriller. But it’s all real and part of a bizarre story that’s grabbed the attention of millions of people from Washington to the South Shore this week.
On Monday, The Boston Globe published a full-page advertisement from a Los Angeles detective seeking information about a forged $2 million check from the Bank of New England. The ad offered a $100,000 reward for information about a person who tried to pass the phony check at a New York City bank in June 1982.
Subsequent ads were published this week in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Times. The ads cost more than $50,000, but the detective said yesterday he’s received hundreds of calls from people across the country, many with valuable information.
“The ads have more than paid for themselves,” detective Eugene M. Ingram said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “We’ve got some very hot leads.”
Ingram, working on the case since last May, said his client is a Los Angeles law firm that represents L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology. Ingram said Hubbard, who hasn’t been seen in public since 1976, is willing to put up the money for the investigation, the ads and the reward because the forged check was a copy of a check he wrote.
Because of this there was a lot of media attention on him (Hubbard),” Ingram said. “A crime has been committed against him and he wants to find out who’s behind it.”
According to Ingram, here’s how the case developed:
On March 9, 1982, Hubbard wrote a $1 million check on his personal account from the E.F. Hutton Cash Reserve Management Section of the Bank of New England in Boston. The check, made out to a Los Angeles investment firm, was deposited, cleared through the Boston bank and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, then returned to Hubbard several weeks later.
On June 7, 1982, a man identifying himself as Mr. K. Abdulamiar attempted to open an account at the Mideast Bank in New York City. The man, who had no personal identification, presented two forged checks. One was a copy of the Hubbard check from the Bank of New England, though this check was made out to Abdulamiar for $2 million. The man also presented a check for $500,000 from a Florida food company which was also drawn the E.F. Hutton account at the Boston bank. Ingram said there is no connection between Hubbard and the Florida firm.
Mideast Bank officials refused to honor the checks since the man did not have any identification, though they called the Boston bank and confirmed that there was enough money in both accounts to cover the checks.
The man identifying himself as Abdulamiar, who claimed to be well-connected in Middle Eastern financial circles, threatened to have the bank officials fired. But he refused to take the phony checks with him when he left the New York bank. The checks were turned over to federal investigators.
Ingram said he believes the original Hubbard check was somehow stolen from a processing area at the Bank of New England, copied, then returned to the bank. He said he has several suspects, none of them present or former Bank of New England employees.
But Denise Lane, a bank spokesman, said yesterday that an internal investigation into the matter “found no evidence of mishandling.”
“Frankly, there are some statements in the ad that are not quite true,” Lane said. “He says the check was somehow taken from the bank. That has not been determined. There are many possible things that could have happened.”
Ingram said his client decided to take out the ads after officials at the Bank of New England refused to have them information or allow their employees to be interviewed by the detective.
“The bank’s position is that because there’s been no money lost, they’re not concerned,” Ingram said. Ingram said he has received cooperation from the FBI, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and E.F. Hutton, who are conducting their own investigations. But he said those investigations also have been somewhat half-hearted since no money was actually stolen.
Lane said the bank refused to cooperate with Ingram because “we have a legal obligation to protect the confidentiality of our records and accounts.”
Ingram said he has received many calls from police officers and attorneys offering information and assistance in tracking down the forger.
“And very few have called collect,” Ingram said. “They take it seriously enough to invest their own dime. It restores my faith in the American public, where people do get involved, though I’m sure the $100,000 has something to do with it.”
Ingram said he would like to question bank employees to identify a photo of a mysterious man seen four times in the bank’s processing section at the time the Hubbard check came through the bank. Although the processing area is supposed to be secure, Ingram said the man was not a bank employee.
Meanwhile, Ingram said he and a team of East Coast investigators are interviewing people who have called with information.
Asked if he thought the mysterious Mr. Abdulamiar would be found, Ingram replied: “Absolutely. No question.”
A private investigator, acting on behalf of a West Coast law firm that represents the Church of Scientology, placed a full-page advertisement that appeared yesterday in The Boston Globe offering a $100,000 reward for information about a $2-million counterfeit check.
The ad seeks information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever forged and attempted to pass the check drawn on an E. F. Hutton Cash Reserve Management Account at the Bank of New England.
The incident dates back to June 7, 1982, according to the ad, when a man using the name Abdulamiar tried to open an account with the check at the Middle East Bank of New York City.
Eugene M. Ingram of Los Angeles, the private investigator who signed the ad, declined to say whose account the forged check was drawn on because, he said, he wants to screen out crank telephone callers by asking for the name of the account.
Sources say the account belonged to L. Ron Hubbard, who founded the controversial Church of Scientology in the late 1940s and who has not been seen in public since 1976.
David Aden, a vice president with the church in Boston, said he had no knowledge of the ad before reading it in The Globe yesterday. “I have no record of this thing,” he said.
Ingram said the check was counterfeit, copied from a legitimate check which passed through the Hutton section in the Bank of New England on March 11, 1982. In the ad, Ingram contended that “efforts to obtain relevant information” from the bank have been futile.
Questions were immediately raised about the check, Bank of New England spokeswoman Denise Lane said, and it was not honored. The owner of the account did not lose any money, she said, and the man known as Abdulamiar never returned to the Middle East Bank.
Lane said the bank has cooperated fully with an FBI investigation and also conducted an internal investigation, “which reached no definite conclusion.” She added that the bank rejected Ingram’s request to make staff available for questioning.
The genuine check was first processed through the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston without incident, said assistant general counsel John Kimball. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conducted an internal investigation that absolved the bank of any wrongdoing, Ingram said.
“Then the check was processed through the Bank of New England. That was the check the suspects used as a master,” Ingram said.
Lane said, however, that several other scenarios are possible. “It has not at all been determined that (what Ingram has charged) was the case,” she said. The bank processes about 600,000 checks daily, Lane said.
Ingram said a former Bank of New England employee identified a photograph of a person who did not work for the bank but who was in the bank’s check- processing section several times. Ingram said he has has an affadavit to back up his accusations, but that the person in question has refused to cooperate with the investigation.
“Someone stole an original check. That’s pretty serious,” Ingram said. “We’re talking a huge check here.”
FBI special agent Glen Prinsze in New York confirmed that the agency is conducting an investigation based on interstate transportation of stolen property. He declined to comment further while the investigation is in progress.
Ingram also approached the District Attorney’s office in Boston, said spokesman David M. Rodman. The office declined to cooperate, but felt Ingram’s “investigation should continue and we told him if he has any other information to get back to us,” Rodman said.
Alan G. Brower, Hutton senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said the securities firm “considers this a dead issue as far as we’re concerned.” He said Hutton cooperated with law enforcement authorities, but did not know whether the securities firm had held an internal investigation. Ingram said Hutton cooperated with his investigation earlier.
The ad in The Globe cost about $14,000. A quarter-page version of the ad will run through Friday, Ingram said.