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4 charged in theft of apartment rent checks

Four people are under arrests charged with stealing close to $400,000 in checks and money orders.
"The assistant property manager asked if we had paid our rent," recalls Eric Coffey. "I said of course we paid our rent, we put it in the dropbox."

CLEARWATER, Florida — For Eric Coffey it started with a knock at the front door.

"The assistant property manager asked if we had paid our rent," recalls Coffey. "I said of course we paid our rent, we put it in the dropbox."

But management at the complex said his rent payment was never received, and that if he didn't pay soon he would face late charges, or worse.

"He said we need you to come down and pay the rest of the money because it was compromised, otherwise you could face eviction," Coffey recalls of the conversation he had just before Christmas of 2013.

Back in 2013, 10 Investigates stopped by the apartment complex front office looking for information.

"That's none of your business," an employee shouted.

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Turns out, Coffey was not the only victim of stolen rent payments. Clearwater police working with the Secret Service later uncovered similar cases -- totaling close to $400,000 -- from 15 other apartment complexes in Clearwater before finding even more victims across the state.

"This was very widespread," said police spokesperson Rob Shaw. "We believe they may have been fishing the checks and money orders out of the dropbox using some type of wire hanger with a sticky substance on the end."

Four Bay area suspects are now under arrest in connection with the crimes including Yensy Guevara, 35, of Clearwater, and Juan Carlos Miranda Noda, 29, Heysy Puente Lopez, 29, and Lazaro Velazquez, 28, all of Tampa. All four are facing federal charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

As for Coffey, it's unclear if he'll ever get his rent money back, but he plans on filing a lawsuit against the suspects.

In the meantime, he says he's learned his lesson and urges others to pay their rent in person, and get a receipt.

"Go in and pay it inside," said Coffey "Do not put it in the Dropbox."