Man charged in connection with stolen, counterfeit checks

An Isanti County man charged with burglary in late January is facing a number of new felony charges relating to stolen or counterfeit checks.

Brandon Michael James Opatz

Brandon Michael James Opatz, 29, of Isanti, was charged before Judge Amy Brosnahan on May 8 in Isanti County District Court in Cambridge with 13 felony counts of possession or sale of stolen or counterfeit checks; two counts of felony check forgery; felony fifth-degree drug possession; two counts of gross misdemeanor fifth-degree drug possession; gross misdemeanor drivers license and ID card fraud; gross misdemeanor identity theft; misdemeanor identity theft; and misdemeanor not providing proof of insurance when operating motor vehicle.

His bail was set at $20,000 without conditions or $10,000 with conditions and next court appearance for May 25.

Opatz was previously charged on Jan. 27 in Isanti County with felonies first-degree burglary with possession of dangerous weapon and second-degree burglary of a dwelling after the homeowner discovered thousands of dollars of items were missing from his detached garage. Opatz was later identified through the use of the homeowner’s trail camera. A plea hearing is scheduled for May 18 in connection with this case.

The charges relating to the allegedly stolen or counterfeit checks involved 13 or more checks written out by various individuals and businesses, not Opatz, to various individuals and businesses. The checks ranged in value from $1,410 to $13. The case also involved Minnesota drivers’ licenses belonging to various individuals, including some with Opatz’s photo.

“These are new charges for this individual, who is the type of individual who won’t stop committing criminal activity unless we keep them in jail or order them to a rehabilitation program,” said Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk. “I would just like to remind the public that if you need to mail something, use the official post office blue mailboxes or mail it directly from the post office. This individual preyed on individuals who left mail outside in their mailbox.”

According to the criminal complaint:
On May 3, at 1:06 p.m., Isanti County Investigator Rob Bowker and Isanti County Deputy Doug Barron overheard a call for service related to suspicious activity located at a residence on Holly Street, where it was reported a vehicle had been there earlier in the day and now returned. Earlier in the day, a green Ford Expedition was at the complainant’s house asking for gasoline, and now the vehicle was back.

Bowker responded after hearing the suspect vehicle was a green-colored Ford Expedition and was familiar with a vehicle like that from prior suspicious vehicle calls in the Grandy Pines area approximately one month ago where burglaries were discovered.

Bowker located the Expedition and initiated a traffic stop just before the intersection of University Avenue and 341st Avenue Northwest.

Bowker recognized the driver as Opatz and asked Opatz what he was doing at the residence that he had just left. Opatz stated he was there this morning and the woman was kind enough to give him some gas and he was bringing her a thank you note. Bowker noted Opatz’s speech was not clear and he was all over the place when talking about running out of gas this morning.

Bowker observed Opatz’s eyes were constricted and he appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance. Bowker knew Opatz as a methamphetamine user and believed he’d been using that day; however, Opatz stated he had not used in a couple of days. Bowker informed Opatz this was the third call today involving him and his vehicle being in a rural area asking for gas. When asked for license and proof of insurance, Opatz stated the vehicle belonged to another man, and his mother had him under her insurance.

When reached by phone, the man informed Bowker he had sold the vehicle to Opatz awhile back and they had transferred the title into Opatz’s name. Bowker confirmed from dispatch the vehicle came back registered to Opatz. Bowker also learned the vehicle was not covered on any insurance plan. Opatz was taken out of the vehicle and underwent field sobriety testing.

During an inventory search, Bowker observed a laptop computer connected to a printer. Bowker looked under the seat and observed a license plate hidden under the lining, which came back registered to Summit Fire Protection out of St. Paul that belonged on a 2006 Ford Super Duty truck. Bowker believed at this time the plate was an unreported stolen plate that was being used in gas drive-offs.

Bowker located a plastic box containing numerous checks of all sizes and lengths. Bowker opened the box and found mail from an area of Dalbo, as well as Elk River, which were personal checks written on May 2 and April 30. Bowker knew Isanti County had experienced a large amount of mail thefts over the last two months and further observed payroll checks written out to an Alexx Thompson. Also found in the box was a credit card for Opatz along with a copy of the backside of a Minnesota driver’s license on glossy paper, which was consistent with what investigators have found during forgeries in the making of false identification cards.

Bowker found a Minnesota driver’s license card that had been made on the glossy paper with Opatz’s picture on it in the name of Alexx Eileen Thompson of North Branch, which was the same name on the checks. This made Bowker even more suspicious because of the set up and appearing that Opatz was making fake IDs and checks and then cashing them. Bowker checked to see if this was a real person and learned there was no person with that name with a driver’s license in Minnesota.

Bowker found several types of computer paper including glossy paper that matched the Minnesota driver’s license in the name of Alexx Thompson as well as other paper Bowker believed was used to print checks that matched the payroll checks for Alexx Thompson.

Bowker further located a clear zippered bag containing latex gloves, both blue and black in color, which were consistent with the types of gloves he had found in the past where burglaries had taken place or he had stopped burglars and done warrants on their vehicles. Bowker believed Opatz was wearing these gloves while doing computer work on the checks or fake IDs or engaged in another type of criminal activity.

Bowker grabbed the gray plastic contractor tablet, where he found several Minnesota drivers’ licenses again with Opatz’s picture but under different names that were again printed on glossy paper.

In the backseat of the vehicle, he found a prescription bottle without a name on it. Pursuant to a search warrant executed on the vehicle on May 5, the pills recovered in the prescription bottle were that of the opioid controlled substance marketed as Hydrocodone.
Bowker later communicated with a man who worked for Summit Fire Protection and said that one of his drivers came to him that afternoon informing him the license plate on a 2006 Ford Super Duty was missing. He said he would provide the driver’s route list for the past week so it could be investigated where the vehicle would have crossed paths with Opatz.