Rendering of the front entrance of Spruce Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Edmonds School District)

Rendering of the front entrance of Spruce Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Edmonds School District)

Police: Edmonds schools sent $2.7 million check to fraudster

Police say the fraudster posed as a contractor for a new elementary school. A bank caught it at the last second.

LYNNWOOD — Over $2.7 million meant for the construction of a new Lynnwood elementary nearly fell into the hands of a fraudster, according to a detective’s search warrant obtained by The Daily Herald.

Now the case is being investigated as felony theft.

The money was supposed to go to a contractor, BNBuilders, for the construction of the nearly $46 million Spruce Elementary, between highways 99 and 525.

On March 14, the Lynnwood-based Edmonds School District received an email from someone posing as Rich Finlay, the chief financial officer from BNBuilders, according to the Lynnwood detective’s search warrant. The emailer wanted to update the Seattle-based contractor’s address, claiming the business had relocated.

The email included a signature line for Finlay and listed an address in Clearlake, California. It was reportedly forwarded to the district’s purchasing department, who sent the emailer instructions to update its tax forms. The department also notified the requester that changes to a mailing address must be done verbally, not over email.

Someone from the department called the BNBuilders number listed in the district’s files. No one answered, according to the search warrant filed last month in Snohomish County Superior Court.

A few minutes after the email with the instructions was sent, someone claiming to be Finlay called the purchasing department and confirmed the address update was legitimate. The phone number the caller used was not one on file for BNBuilder, but the staffer didn’t notice, according to court papers. The caller’s area code was 707, in northern California, which covers Clearlake. The number was registered to a 73-year-old Clearlake man unaffiliated with BNBuilders, police found. The man’s Clearlake address was the same as the one first given in the fake email.

Search warrant papers did not state whether the Clearlake man was a suspect.

In a subsequent email, the person posing as Finlay attached updated tax forms and advised that the new BNBuilders address was in Lacey.

On March 24, the district issued the check for over $2.7 million, addressed to BNBuilders in Lacey, according to court documents. Days later, the check was cashed by someone claiming to be associated with the contractor.

A couple weeks later, an account executive at Truist Bank contacted the school district to let them know one of the bank’s clients had cashed the check. But the check was flagged as potentially fraudulent. So the executive asked the district if the check had gone to the right person.

In a statement Thursday, the school district confirmed what happened. All of the money was “en route back to the district and no loss will be suffered.”

The school district has been working with both local and federal law enforcement.

The case was still under investigation on Friday, according to Lynnwood police.

BNBuilders declined to comment.

Construction on Spruce Elementary is expected to finish by the start of the next school year.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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