Four East Bay women with a carload of counterfeit $100 travelers cheques made an elaborate but ultimately failed attempt to cash them in local stores while trying to purchase low-cost items on Thursday, Oct. 24.

The women, working as a team, attempted to cash the cheques at the Rite Aid store in Maxwell Village shopping center, and at the Staples office supply store on West Napa Street.

But the group, three of whom descended en masse on each store and picked out cheap items to buy while proffering the bogus American Express cheques, might just as well have worn T-shirts proclaiming, “We’re here to steal from you,” because employees of both stores were instantly suspicious and called police.

The caper started around 4:20 p.m. at the Rite Aid store when the trio walked in and first tried to use credit cards to purchase minor items, but in each case the cards were declined. At least one of them tried to buy a pack of cigarettes with one of the fraudulent travelers cheques, but the clerk refused to take it and a store employee immediately called police, alerting them to look for the burgundy Cadillac in which the women had driven off.

The group next tried their luck at the Staples store, where one woman attempted to buy $10.88 worth of pens and a calculator with one of the cheques, and another woman offered a bad cheque for a $7.50 pack of toilet paper. A clerk told the t.p. purchaser that a minimum purchase of $20 was required before she could make change, whereupon the suspect plucked a printer cartridge off the counter without even looking at it and asked, “How’s this?”

The third suspect, seeing her confederates being rebuffed, left items on the check-out counter, said “I don’t need these,” and hurried out of the store just as police arrived. A fourth woman, the presumed get-away driver, had remained in the car, and all four suspects were arrested.

The Staples store manager, a 20-year retail veteran with training in spotting fraudulent cheques, told police he had seen the scenario play out before, when small groups with big cheques attempt to make purchases requiring lots of change.

In the Cadillac, police found numerous inexpensive items from stores located all over Northern California. They also found many more counterfeit travelers cheques, a large number of store gift cards presumably purchased with bad cheques and a large amount of cash in each woman’s purse.

Police suspect the women may have been part of a larger counterfeit ring at work in the greater Bay Area.

Arrested were 27-year-old Stephanie Reed, of Stockton, on charges of felony burglary, felony forgery, felony passing a bad check, felony making a fictitious check, felony receiving stolen property and felony conspiracy to commit a crime; 22-year-old Rodnika Garrett of Oakland, charged with the same crimes; 27-year-old Samantha Moore, of Oakland, on the same charges; and 26-year-old Dayneisha Foster, of Union City, also charged with the above crimes and with an additional felony fraud warrant from Glenn County.

All four were booked into the Sonoma County jail.