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Michigan woman pleads guilty to part in check-cashing ring

A Michigan woman entered guilty pleas in six pending criminal cases on Tuesday afternoon in Carbon County court to her part in a check-cashing ring that victimized three banks in the county.

Amanda Dranginis, 34, of Wixon, and formerly of Nesquehoning, entered guilty pleas to two counts each of forgery, theft and access device fraud before Judge Steven R. Serfass.

Dranginis was part of a group that went to banks in the county during November 2019 and cashed forged checks. The banks victimized by the operation were the Jim Thorpe Neighborhood Bank, Mauch Chunk Trust Company Bank and the First Northern Bank. Bank branches in Palmerton, Lehighton, Lansford, Nesquehoning, Jim Thorpe and Albrightsville were targeted.

Defense attorney Paul J. Bender said his client had a drug addiction problem and got involved with “the wrong people.” He said the men in the group forced Dranginis to go into the banks and cash the phony checks. He said they made her go in with a cellphone so they could hear what she said.

He said she managed to escape the group and returned to her home in Michigan. A short time later she was involved in a traffic stop in Michigan in which she was a passenger. Police ran her name and learned she was wanted in Pennsylvania, specifically Carbon County. She was taken into custody and later extradited back to Carbon. She has been in the county prison ever since. Her plea was done via video conference from the jail.

Bender said as part of a plea agreement she made a deposit of $6,000 with the collections bureau to be distributed among the banks involved.

According to Assistant District Attorney Joseph D. Perilli, banks are still owed $14,356.24.

Dranginis told Serfass, “I apologize for my role in this.”

Serfass sentenced her to serve one day less 12 to one day less 24 months in the county prison followed by three years probation. She was also ordered her to supply a DNA sample, pay court costs of about $1,000, pay a $50 per month supervision fee and render 100 hours of community service. She was also ordered to make restitution to the three banks in amounts determined by the district attorney’s office for the total above.

She will be paroled since she was given credit for 481 days already served in prison on the charges.