Police in New York are looking for the leaders of an illegal check-cashing operation that recruited homeless people and drug addicts.

Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty Jr. says nine people have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme that he says cost Buffalo-area banks more than $50,000.

Flaherty says many of the defendants were troubled individuals who were paid a small amount of money to put their names on forged, counterfeit checks in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. Investigators have tracked about 36 such checks since November. They say the out-of-town recruiters behind the operation remain at large.

The nine who've pleaded guilty face up to seven years in prison for each fraudulent check passed.