Perpetual con artist avoids jail

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Despite numerous charges against him, including convictions in three counties, a Dallas County man has once again avoided a jail sentence &045; this time in Marengo County.

James Utsey pleaded guilty this week to theft by deception first degree in Marengo County Circuit Court for ripping off a car dealer and stealing more than $11,000.

Driggers Motors, which opened a business last year on U.S. Highway 80, hired Utsey to run its Demopolis location. According to District Attorney Greg Griggers and the Demopolis Police Department, Utsey then implemented a scheme to take cash from the car dealer and put it in his pocket.

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After an investigation by Det. Sgt. Tim Soronen and the Demopolis Police, evidence was compiled to show Utsey would sell a car at Driggers Motors and put some of the cash from the sale in his personal account. Then, when he sold the next car, he would pay the company for the previous car he sold.

In pleading guilty, Utsey received two years of suspended confinement, two years of probation, and he must pay back $11,523 in restitution, plus court costs. Utsey’s two-year prison sentence is suspended unless he breaks the terms of his probation.

At face value, the case seems fairly simple: A man took money from his company and now must pay it back. But that isn’t all to the story.

While Utsey and his attorney, Billy Faile, organized a plea bargain in Marengo County with Griggers, Utsey was in the midst of facing similar charges in Dallas County.

Ed Greene, district attorney for the Dallas County jurisdiction, said Utsey had been indicted on two different counts for selling vehicles to people and then taking their money.

In one indictment, Utsey sold a vehicle that he didn’t even own, according to Greene. He had not paid off the title, and the company that actually owned the car had no idea he was selling it. Utsey pocketed that money in the first case.

In the second indictment, Utsey pulled off a similar scheme when he sold at least three cars he did not own or did not turn the title over for. In one particular case, he borrowed around $20,000 to purchase a car and then never paid the lender his money back. A few shady deals later, according to Greene, Utsey sold a tractor he didn’t own for $20,000 and paid the first lender back with that stolen money.

In Dallas County, Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins decided Utsey didn’t need to serve jail time and sentenced him to a suspended sentence, probation and restitution. The jail sentence will be dropped during a December hearing if Utsey pays back all of his victims.

And if those cases against Utsey aren’t enough, Greene said Utsey also pleaded guilty to a similar crime in Elmore County.

After convictions in Dallas and pleadings in Marengo and Elmore, apparently the wheels of justice have not stopped turning.

By all indications, Utsey has made a habit of these crimes throughout central Alabama. And after the same sort of crime in three counties, how has he stayed out of prison?

Griggers took over the district attorney’s position earlier this year and came in during the middle of the case.

Utsey showed up in Marengo Circuit Court with a $5,000 check as part of his payment to Mal Driggers, who owned Driggers Motors in Selma and Demopolis.

Greene wasn’t so lenient in Dallas County. He asked Judge Wiggins to put Utsey in jail.

Greene had asked for Utsey to serve at least 18 months, but Wiggins agreed with Utsey’s attorneys and allowed Utsey the chance to pay the money back before giving him jail time. At the same time, Greene doesn’t think that will make a difference.

As for the pending case in Lee County, neither Greene nor Griggers could comment as to whether Utsey will finally get prison time.