City cracking down on bad checks

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 3, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-Bad checks in Demopolis could soon make repeat offenders famous fro all the wrong reasons. Soon the names of habitual bad check writers could be listed in the local newspaper.

Local authorities have seen the number of offense on a steady increase and are ready to put a dent in the problem. Bill Mason, Worthless Check Coordinator for the 17th Circuit Office of the District Attorney, said the numbers are growing and most of the names are staying the same. Mason said they have a process in place that makes it simple for people to settle their check issues.

“Part of my job is to process all of the bad checks in the circuit,” Mason said. “The merchant sends a notice to me and I determine if they are prosecutable.”

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If they are Mason takes them and enters them into his program and sends them two notices.

Mason said with the process that is in place there is no reason for people to leave their debts unsettled. However, if they don’t they must pay the price.

“We give them an opportunity to come in and pay them,” Mason said. “If they do that is the end of it and there is no court record. If they don’t I take the warrants to the circuit clerk to the municipal clerk and they will pass them on to the police and they will arrest them.”

In Alabama, Demopolis and Mobile are the only cities in the state that handle bad checks in city court. Mason said because most of the business for the circuit is done in Demopolis it stands to reason most of the offenses would also occur here.

“Because Demopolis is the hub of the circuit a lot of the problems happen here,” Mason said. “That is because most of the businesses are here. A big percentage of the checks are in Demopolis so we handle them in city court.”

The system of using city court gives offenders a fair opportunity to pay their debts and avoid jail time. It also takes a lot of work off the courts. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work for those who handle the situation. Mason said numbers have reached an all time high.

“Through last month I had the most turned in that I have ever had,” Mason said. “It used to be that we were averaging 100 a month in the circuit. I had 255 turned in last month.”

The numbers were already up to 361 for September for a total of $107,197.

These numbers can be deceiving. The number of checks is up, but the number of offenders is down. Mason said this is the first statistic that stands out when he goes through the list.

“It seems like to us there are not as many people out there writing bad checks,” Mason said. “The ones that are writing them are writing a lot more of them.”

Mason said some have as many as nine with more coming in every day. The hope is that getting publicity will cut down on the offenses.