07/30/06 — Program will target bad check offenders

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Program will target bad check offenders

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 30, 2006 2:07 AM

Bad check writers beware; and worthless check victims take heart.

A new program sponsored by District Attorney Branny Vickory's office could mean quicker punishments for those who write bad checks and faster restitution for their victims.

Wayne County will join more than 20 counties across North Carolina that have streamlined their bad check collection and adjudication processes, said Sidney Hill, an employee in the 8th District Attorney's office.

She said the program has been successful elsewhere, and added that she expects to see similar results in Wayne.

"We hope to cut down on the amount of worthless check cases we see in court. If it works out like we want it to, it could create an extra day of criminal court," Mrs. Hill said.

When a person writes a worthless check to a local business, the business owner can send a certified letter requesting the amount be paid within 10 days. After 15 days, if the person refuses to pay the merchant, the business owner can refer the case to the county's worthless checks program, Mrs. Hill said.

The district attorney's office will then send a letter to the check writer that explains the program and orders him or her to pay the amount within 30 days.

Mrs. Hill said the deadline for payment is set at 30 days to allow a person to receive a paycheck before further action is taken.

If the person does pay within 30 days of the letter, that person must bring the full amount owed plus $60 for the program's fee to the Wayne County Clerk of Courts office in the county courthouse, Mrs. Hill said.

The victim receives the restitution within a week and the fee helps the program pay for itself, which benefits taxpayers, Vickory said.

If the person doesn't pay, Vickory said the office can begin a criminal process against the offender. Then, the bad check writer can only pay restitution through the clerk's office, which includes a $110 fine.

"We see this as having a four-fold purpose. We get the money back to the victims and we hope to discourage worthless check writers because now we can get a warrant for them. Nobody wants the cloud of a criminal record over their shoulder," he said.

The program also enables officials to get a warrant for the worthless check writer. Before the program was implemented, the magistrate's office would issue a summons for the bad check writer to pay restitution. Mrs. Hill said those summonses would usually be ignored.

A warrant, on the other hand, carries much more weight, Vickory said.

"This gives them the opportunity to pay what is owed and the fee, which is less than court costs. It gives them a chance to avoid any criminal costs. It also gives an innocent worthless check writer enough time to pay," Vickory said.

The program also helps merchants by saving them time and effort in retrieving their money. Instead of the merchant having to wait in line all day at the magistrate's office to get a summons, officials with the worthless checks program can act as a liaison to the district attorney and the magistrate offices, Mrs. Hill said.

The program began in North Carolina in 1997 and has spread to more than 20 counties. If the program is successful in Wayne, Vickory said it could spread to the rest of the 8th District, which includes Lenoir and Greene counties.

Other counties that have implemented the program, such as Onslow and Wake, have collected more than $145,000 and $490,000, respectively.

The program began two weeks ago, and Mrs. Hill said she expects to be busy next week as merchants bring in paperwork against bad check writers.

Worthless check merchant forms are available in the magistrate's office, located near the county's sheriff's office, and the district attorney's office on the fourth floor of the county courthouse. For more information on the program, call Mrs. Hill at 731-7913, Ext. 503, or 734-2379.