A Nevada prison officer is being investigated in connection with an interstate counterfeit check scam that detectives say could be costing merchants and shipping companies millions of dollars.

Richard Dale Ward, 50, Carson City, was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail Wednesday for investigation of four counts of forgery, jail records show.Ward was arrested at the Shilo Inn, 206 S. West Temple, after four boxes were delivered by United Parcel Service to a downtown hotel, said Detective Danny Varoz.

Varoz began investigating the case Monday after being notified by St. Louis, Mo., police that a suspicious shipment was enroute to Salt Lake City.

That shipment, from a St. Louis jewelry company, contained watches worth $8,000, according to a police report.

The watches had been ordered by a man who said he worked for Prudential Capitol Corp. in Salt Lake City and gave the jewelry company an address and phone number.

Salt Lake police learned that the address was of the hotel and the number of an answering service.

Wednesday morning, police, with the cooperation of UPS, followed a UPS delivery van, expecting it to be intercepted by a man before it got to the hotel. It wasn't, and the driver delivered the watches, along with three other packages from various parts of the country, to a man at the hotel.

Three detectives waiting nearby then arrested Ward. Police then confirmed that Ward - who had cards identifying him as Richard Armstrong and Joseph Billings - was a Nevada corrections employee and had worked the day shift Tuesday.

The detectives also confiscated four allegedly counterfeit cashier's checks written out for $8,000 to Hamilton Jewelers in St. Louis; $3,329 to Tripps Inc. of New Mexico; and $7,274 to Advanced Videotech Corp. of Pennsylvania, the report said.

The checks were made out to International Merchant Bank Ltd., an institution the Federal Reserve Bank has no record of, Varoz said.

Varoz said four more packages were being sent via UPS to the hotel on Thursday but had no further information on those.

He said that along with the allegedly phony checks were mailing labels, envelopes and instructions that described how to mail the packages to other destinations.

"This was a sophisticated plan," said Sgt. H.L. Hardwick of the forged-checks squad. "These packages were going to the Miami area after Salt Lake City." It was a type of laundering of the merchandise, Hardwick said.