(STAR) By Joaquin Henson Thursday, February 14, 2008 Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao will get back the $180,000 that was stolen from his Los Angeles bank account through a series of forged checks, a source told The STAR yesterday.

“It’s 95 percent sure he’ll get every penny back,” said the source. “The bank expects to finish its investigation on the fraud case by Friday. A requirement was for Manny to report to the police that his money was stolen. The bank will cover Manny’s money, probably out of insurance, then go after the person or people who committed the fraud. Those found guilty face a minimum prison term of seven years.”

Pacquiao deposited $200,000 in the bank in December 2006 and forgot about it until his associate Michael Koncz came across the account in the course of arranging signatories for MP Promotions last Thursday.

“Manny’s brother Rogel is the only signatory for the MP Promotions account in the bank so Michael wanted to add Manny as a signatory, too,” related the source.“When Michael visited the bank, he was informed about Manny’s three accounts.He only knew of two so the third account was a surprise.”

When Koncz found out that about $11,000 was withdrawn from the account on a monthly basis, he immediately told Pacquiao. Checks were apparently signed by Pacquiao on days when he wasn’t in the US and only $19,000 was left from the original deposit.

It was later discovered that checks ranging from $300 to $15,900 (to pay the balance for a brand-new Toyota Camry) were drawn against the account.Pacquiao never signed the checks, leading to the conclusion they were forged.

The address of Joseph Jose, a Filipino living in Los Angeles, was used when Pacquiao opened the account. Jose is often seen driving for Pacquiao in his Lincoln Navigator. His second wife Pia Quijada has been accused of forging the checks.

Jose reportedly denied being involved in the scam. His wife is now missing and not returning phone calls.

A Team Pacquiao insider said the wife’s mother, who also lives in Los Angeles, went to the fighter to ask for forgiveness last Friday and claimed the money was used for the children’s education.

“Manny is very kind and generous but he should put his foot down on people who try to take advantage of him,” said the insider. “How can they claim the money was used for the children’s education when the checks clearly show payments for a car and other things? How can they afford to pay $1,200 a month for an apartment? How can Joseph afford to pay for new Jordan shoes, new furniture, a Kobe Bryant jersey and other expensive things?”

The insider said because Jose’s address was listed in the account by the bank, statements and two boxes of checkbooks were delivered to him. When the checks ran out, Jose ordered a third box. In all, some 300 checks were issued to siphon the funds from Pacquiao’s account. Even Pacquiao’s e-mail address was used to transact an on-line money transfer of $40,000 to another account.

Jose allegedly received a referral fee from a broker for the recent sale of a Los Angeles 10-unit apartment complex to Pacquiao and used his commission for the down payment on a Toyota Camry. A check for $15,900 from Pacquiao’s account was issued to pay the balance. Another check was made to pay for the car insurance.

“I don’t think it’s just the couple involved in cheating Manny,” said the insider.“There are others who claim to be his loyal friends who are involved. We’re all hoping everyone will be named in the investigation.”

With the discovery of the fraud, the bank has instituted stricter controls in dispensing Pacquiao’s money. For instance, he will now be contacted personally whenever there is a withdrawal of at least $5,000. Pacquiao also changed his signature in his driver’s license as a counter-check for bank transactions.

News of the fraud has spread far and wide. The insider said CNN has even assigned reporters to get to the bottom of the story, prompting Pacquiao to consider hiring a legal counsel for the case.

Meanwhile, Pacquiao takes a day off from training today (Wednesday in the US) to report to neurologist Dr. Richard Gluckman’s clinic in San Pedro for a mandatory medical check-up.

“Manny didn’t want the day off because he’s so focused in his training but he has no choice because his eyes will be dilated,” said a source. “His training has been phenomenal. You have to hold him back because he wants to do so much more in the gym.”

In yesterday’s training, Pacquiao logged 32 rounds in about three hours at the Wild Card Gym. He sparred eight rounds, banged the heavy bag, shadow boxed and hit the speedball, among others. Pacquiao didn’t seem bothered by the fraud case after he was assured the stolen money would be covered by the bank.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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