- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A man who cashed $300,000 worth of counterfeit checks using personal information stolen by peeking over the shoulders of hundreds of Wal-Mart customers was sentenced to prison Thursday.

Robert MacVittie and his wife lined up behind customers trying to cash payroll checks at “dozens and dozens” of Wal-Mart stores in 20 states and recorded them providing their Social Security numbers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci said at the hearing where MacVittie received a 34-month sentence. The couple would then use the victims’ identities to create counterfeit checks, which they cashed at other Wal-Marts.

Melucci called MacVittie, 35, and his wife Jennifer, 32, “the Bonnie and Clyde of counterfeit checks.”

The MacVitties, formerly of Cranberry Township, pleaded guilty in September to charges of conspiracy and aggravated identity theft in a scheme known as “shoulder surfing.”

More than 400 people had their identities used on the successfully cashed counterfeit checks, Melucci said.

In all, the MacVitties stole or attempted to steal the identities of more than 900 people, Melucci said. They failed to cash more than $600,000 in other counterfeit checks; prosecutors had previously put that number at $700,000.

The fraud started in October 2013 and the couple was finally arrested at a Nevada casino in November 2014, Melucci said.

MacVittie apologized for the fraud, which he told U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti was fueled by his gambling addiction and to keep one step ahead of people to whom he owed debts.

MacVittie didn’t describe the debts and his public defender, Linda Cohn, declined comment as did Jennifer MacVittie, who witnessed the sentencing. She’ll be sentenced March 8.

“I was under a lot of pressure for gambling debts I owed,” MacVittie said. “I devised this scheme and I didn’t know what to do.”

Melucci said the massive size of the scheme and MacVittie’s criminal record, which he called “replete with all types of forgery and fraud,” made prison time appropriate.

MacVittie’s criminal history includes the theft of a personal mobility scooter when the couple was at Walt Disney World in Florida in November 2012. Court records show he served a day in jail after pleading no contest to a count of third-degree grand theft of a motor vehicle in April 2013.

MacVittie, who has weight-related health issues, uses a scooter, though he was able to walk into court Thursday. During the Wal-Mart schemes, MacVittie was usually on a scooter while his wife stood over the shoulders of the check-cashing victims, Melucci said.

MacVittie was also ordered to repay Wal-Mart for the check losses. Half of his menial prison salary will go toward that debt, as well as 10 percent of any wages he earns after his release from prison.

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