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Man admits heading check scam operation

A Buffalo man pleaded guilty Thursday to bilking the Tops supermarket chain, banks and other businesses out of more than $126,000 by using criminal accomplices to cash checks from fake landscaping and health care businesses.

Haywood Kirkland, 54, of Shirley Avenue, pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski to scheme to defraud and criminal possession of a forged instrument. His criminal enterprise operated from 2009 until recently, prosecutors said.

Overall, Kirkland is responsible for the cashing of 316 bogus checks, said prosecutors, who declined to say what he used the money for. However, he will be forced to sign a confession of judgment for the full amount when he is sentenced, they added.

Kirkland remains free on $30,000 bail pending his Aug. 24 sentencing. He could face up to eight years behind bars. Michalski, who stopped short of committing to a sentence, said he is "inclined" to send him to prison for two to four years.

An informant was used to secretly tape Kirkland's dealings with the "mules," according to Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, who declined to say if the investigation is continuing.

Financial crimes prosecutor Candace K. Vogel said Kirkland was arrested in mid-May. Prosecutors declined to name banks and other businesses victimized by the check-cashing scheme. Sedita said the charges to which Kirkland pleaded guilty are the highest counts he would have faced had he been indicted, then convicted.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com