DA lassos bad check defendants

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Staff Writer

Efforts to clear worthless check cases have proven to be successful.

Citizens who had outstanding worthless checks were given until June 23 to clear themselves before their freedom was canceled.

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Recently, District Attorney Mark Fuller of the 12th Judicial Circuit and other area district attorneys announced plans for a multi-county worthless check roundup that has resulted in the disposal of numerous cases.

"The recent emphasis that was made against defendants charged with worthless check violations was a tremendous success," said Bruce DeVane, chief investigator of district attorney’s office for the 12th Judicial Circuit.

According to DeVane, more than 100 warrants were executed against defendants who refused to clear their cases.

"The roundup also disposed of more than 150 cases wherein the defendants paid the amount of their checks, along with state-required fees," DeVane said, adding assistance by area police and sheriff’s departments made the success possible.

When initiating the efforts, Fuller said he hoped nobody would have to be arrested and urged defendants to clear their names. However, he said, he will not tolerate the deliberate disregard of outstanding warrants.

Fuller estimated there were about 4,000 outstanding warrants his office was hoping to clear with the roundup.

Last year, over 6,000 worthless checks were turned over to the Worthless Check Unit that handles cases in Pike and Coffee Counties, with the total loss to merchants being more than $600,000 in restitution and bank charges incurred by those business that accepted the worthless checks.

Of those complaints turned over to the 12th Judicial Circuit in 2000, Fuller said his staff collected approximately 5,100 checks, resulting in restitution payments totaling $462,481.10 to the citizens and merchants in Pike and Coffee Counties.

During last year, more than 1,250 warrants were issued for arrests of worthless check defendants who failed to respond to notification to pay or make arrangements to pay.

Fuller said worthless checks are not only a problem to merchants, but are passed on to citizens through higher prices and greater inconveniences.

Large numbers of worthless checks once really hampered merchants because they were required to file independent collection suits against those who had written the bad checks. In 1984, that changed when the Alabama Legislature passed a Special Services Division Act, which allowed district attorneys and other law enforcement agencies to get involved in prosecuting those individuals passing worthless checks.

In 2000, more than 14,000 bad check complaints were turned over to the district attorneys who have been participating in the roundup. The counties involved have been Pike, Houston, Henry, Dale, Geneva and Coffee, uniting more than 20 agencies for the largest combined effort of this kind in the Wiregrass.

DeVane said worthless check defendants are still urged to contact the district attorney’s office to make arrangements for payment or face possible jail time. Any worthless check defendant who has a check which is unpaid and for which arrangements have not already been made can contact the Pike County Worthless Check Unit at 566-8922.