TRENTON, NJ – Harold Stephens, 32, of Elizabeth, pleaded guilty January 15 to second-degree charges of theft by deception and money laundering in a counterfeit check scheme before Superior Court Judge Michael Toto in Middlesex County.

Stephens’ co-defendants, Michael Caldwell, 40, of Irvington, and Janilyn Roman, 32, of Orlando, Fla., each pleaded guilty before Judge Toto on Aug. 3, 2015 to second-degree theft by deception for their roles.   

According to court records, between January 2012 and September 2014, Stephens, Caldwell, Roman and other participants in the scheme deposited roughly 300 counterfeit checks in amounts totaling over $1.6 million into numerous third-party bank accounts at branch offices of five major banks in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Florida.  Stephens, Caldwell and Roman then stole approximately $620,000 by withdrawing funds from the deposit of the counterfeit checks before the banks discovered the fraud.

The state will recommend that Stephens be sentenced to 11 years in state prison, six years on the theft charge and a consecutive term of five years for money laundering.  Under the plea agreement, he also is jointly and liable with his two co-defendants for paying full restitution of $620,000. Under their plea agreements, the state will recommend that Caldwell be sentenced to seven years in state prison and Roman be sentenced to six years in state prison. Judge Toto scheduled sentencing for Stephens, Caldwell and Roman for March 14