6 Illinois residents accused of arranging bank scam return to county court

Six Chicago-area residents who authorities say drove to Pennsylvania in May to scam money from local banks with fraudulent checks returned Thursday to Centre County Court.

One of the alleged crew, Johnny Harris, 29, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit theft by deception. He was sentenced to serve two years of probation for his role in the scheme.

Two others, Reneta Harris, 27, and Takneia Young, 22, who remain in the Centre County Correctional Facility, had pretrial conferences Thursday and were ordered to appear for jury selection Aug. 5, even though prosecutors said they may need to ask for a continuance in the case.

Edward Carter, 21, Johnnie Jones, 26 and Robyn Bray, 23, the remaining defendants, also were in the courtroom, but the outcomes of their pretrial conferences were not immediately available Thursday.

Prosecutors said the six loaded into a large van in May and headed to Pennsylvania to make cash by passing fraudulent checks. They were caught when a teller at M&T Bank on North Atherton Street became suspicious and contacted police.

Ferguson Township police testified at a preliminary hearing that, after her arrest, Young identified the others by the clothing they were wearing, saying she didn't know their names. She also allegedly told police all six were in on the plan to travel to Pennsylvania and cash the checks.

Bray was called to testify against the group during the preliminary hearing in May. She said she only knew the defendants by their first names, but identified them in the courtroom.

According to a criminal complaint, Reneta Harris and Young allegedly told police they met Carter, Johnny Harris and Jones separately through mutual friends who said they could get money for cashing the checks.

Johnny Harris accepted a plea deal in the case on Thursday. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft by deception while other charges weren’t prosecuted.

His attorney, Elizabeth Hunt, said during his plea hearing that prosecutors had little evidence to connect Johnny Harris with the case, other than the fact that he was found with the others.

Prosecutors said Thursday they are waiting for discovery materials in the case, which could lead to delays in any possible trial or in additional plea deals.