Counterfeit Checks Used to Spring Skinhead

The Orange County Register/August 20, 2002
By John McDonald

The Orange County Jail released a reputed skinhead gang member held on suspicion of attempted murder after accepting $500,000 in counterfeit cashier's checks for his bail, sheriff's officials disclosed Monday.

Dominic Peter Rizzo, 33, was released from the jail in Santa Ana on July17 after the checks were presented to the jail cashier. The checks were deposited with the bank on which they were drawn, and it took the bank 18 days to report that they were bogus, said Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo.

The gang that Rizzo is believed to belong to has a reputation for counterfeiting - though springing a member on bogus bail is a new twist, said Costa Mesa police Sgt. Clay Epperson.

A warrant for Rizzo's arrest was issued Aug.9. Rizzo, who has a criminal record for felony drug offenses dating to 1988, remains at large and will be held on $2 million bail if arrested, the warrant states.

"The law says we have to accept certain kinds of tender," Jaramillo said. "It only became clear after the checks went to the bank that there was nothing of value standing behind them.

"We don't think this is some scam the deputies could have detected."

Jaramillo said the case is under investigation, partly to determine who posted the bail on Rizzo's behalf.

The use of counterfeit materials to post bail is rare, according to state officials.

Jaramillo said that because of the incident, believed to be a first in Orange County, the policy on accepting cashier's checks has been changed. They will now only be accepted when the funds can be verified with the bank, he said.

Rizzo and his two co-defendants in the April 1999 attempted-murder case are allegedly members of a skinhead prison gang called Public Enemy Number One, or PENI.

PENI has at least 200 members and a long history of identity theft and forged-document crimes, said Epperson, a longtime investigator of skinhead gangs.

Rizzo and his co-defendants, Donald Mazza, 31, and Albert Sherwin, 45, had each been held on $500,000 bail.

Prosecutors called the attack a "prison-ordered hit" motivated by a belief that the victim was giving information against the gang to Westminster police.

The gang is growing and is trying to replace the Nazi Low Riders as the foremost ally of the Aryan Brotherhood, Epperson said.

Court papers say Rizzo was a friend of the man and had been godfather to his child. He is alleged to have met with the man shortly before the attack and warned him to be careful.

On the morning of the attack, Mazza was released from Wasco State Prison. Less than 10 hours after his release, court papers allege, Mazza repeatedly stabbed the victim while Rizzo held him down and Sherwin kept watch.

The victim was stabbed in the chest, abdomen and arms but survived the attack. He initially refused to identify the men who stabbed him but later said he was shocked that Rizzo was one of them.

The trio was arrested two days after the stabbing and were initially held without bail.

All three are due back in court Friday.

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