Tornado victim’s checks in other hands

Published 10:40 am Thursday, July 1, 2010

A 31-year-old Albert Lea woman is accused of forging checks that belonged to the deceased father of a woman whose home was destroyed by the June 17 tornadoes.

Michelle Marie VanRiper was charged with one count of felony check forgery in Freeborn County District Court this week related to this incident and other unrelated alleged forgeries earlier in June.

She was arrested Saturday after police were alerted that the woman was reportedly attempting to pass a forged check at Hy-Vee Gas in the name of Garland Graves, who died in March. The checks had been at the home of Graves’ daughter, Bambi Graves, on Freeborn County Road 46, before it was leveled June 17.

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Mortensen said VanRiper allegedly found the checks in tornado debris.

Albert Lea Police detective Ben Mortensen said prior to this he had been investigating VanRiper for a separate string of alleged forgeries. Businesses in Albert Lea had been on the alert in case she were to attempt it again. The businesses are interconnected and communicate about suspicious customers, he said.

On June 24, he received a call from an employee at Kwik Trip on Front Street, who reported that VanRiper had been identified in the store using a forged check from Graves.

Then on Saturday, he got the alert from Hy-Vee Gas that she was attempting it again.

At that point, she was arrested.

She faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the single count.

Mortensen encouraged people who have lost personal papers, credit cards, debit cards, checkbooks and other financial data in the June 17 tornado outbreak to make sure that the accounts they have are shut down. The tornadoes not only damaged properties, but they spread a lot of personal information over a large area.

In a few months, affected people should watch their credit reports from the three main credit bureaus to make sure their identity is not being used by someone else.

Anyone who would like more information can download a copy of the Minnesota Attorney General’s booklet called “Guarding Your Privacy” at

The booklet can also be picked up at the Freeborn County Law Enforcement Center.

Mortensen said he’s expecting similar cases to rise in the aftermath of the tornadoes.