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Bad-check crackdown pursued in W.Va.

May 07, 2001

Bad-check crackdown pursued in W.Va.



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith plans to use a 1995 state law to crack down on bad check writers - and he wants anyone who is thinking of writing a bad check in Berkeley County to think twice.

"We want to get the people who are currently involved in this and file felony charges on them," Smith said this week. "Sometimes, two or three people will come in, saturate the area and leave."

Deputy Cpl. Robert Buracker has been working to catch the worst offenders and said he's barely been able to scratch the surface of the problem. He's been working on a case where one person wrote $6,000 in bad checks and another case in which a person wrote 43 bad checks.

What often will happen, he said, is that someone will put money in the bank, then write checks for well over that amount all on the same day. Because the checks often aren't submitted until a day or two later, the person can leave town before he or she is caught.

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Buracker said it is important to get a handle on the problem.

"If you're a consumer the businessman is going to pass some of these costs onto you," he said.

Said Smith: "It's bogging down the court system and law enforcement in Berkeley County,"

The law says that deliberately writing bad checks totaling $1,000 or more is considered a felony "fraudulent scheme." People convicted of this crime face one to 10 years in prison for each count. It is also a felony to deliberately write a single bad check for $500 or more.

Smith said even with the 1995 law, West Virginia still is much easier on bad check writers than adjacent states. A person who deliberately writes three bad checks in Virginia, no matter what the amount, can be charged with a felony, he said.

"It's just plain bad law in West Virginia," Smith said.

Buracker said the best way for businesses to avoid the problem is "to get as much information as you can" from anyone who is writing a check. Business people are not obliged to take checks, and have the right to ask for any kind of identification before they do take one.

But some businesses who ask for ID don't match the face on the identification with the person standing before them, police said.

Smith said he is going public to let people know he is serious about the problem.

"We are trying to deter these people," he said.

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