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LQ Forsyth Promotes Restitution Education
This August, attorney William Forsyth will have been representing the people of
"I was fortunate enough to find a career that I really like," he said.
But the longtime prosecutor sometimes has reservations about prosecuting people.
One thing he tries to impress on new assistant prosecutors is the gravity of the decision about whether to charge someone with a crime.
"You pretty much tarnish the reputation of anybody you charge, and if you are wrong, it's no consolation" to that innocent person, he said.
Sometimes, he said, new assistant prosecutors are pressured by law enforcement officers to prosecute an individual when that might not be what an experienced prosecutor would recommend.
"Police have a certain perspective on a case, and you need to learn how to say no to them," said Forsyth. "It's not an easy thing to do when you are brand new to this job."
On the other hand, some police agencies are not eager to add bad check investigations to their workload, especially when it's the small potatoes of crime — a non-sufficient funds check made out for less than $1,000. The investigation is usually time consuming and tedious, and may hardly seem worth the cost to the taxpayers of criminal prosecution.
Still, the people whose businesses have received a small bad check are victims of crime and they deserve protection under the law.
There are now companies in the
Last year, when the Metropolitan Fraud and Identity Theft team was being formed in
The Bad Check Restitution Program was launched by the Kent County Prosecutor's Office last December, and the main objective, said Forsyth, is to get full restitution to the victim of a bad check while saving local governments time and money otherwise spent on the investigation and prosecution.
"This does not cost the county anything," said Forsyth. "The whole program is paid for by the people who write the bad checks themselves."
The secondary objective is to divert the bad check writer from criminal prosecution, if he or she makes restitution and can learn a valuable lesson about personal financial management.
Here's how it works:
A business takes a bad check or checks, written for less than a total of $1,000. (No check is too small to qualify.) The program does not cover counterfeit or forged checks, only checks written on a closed account or "NSF"— the bank code for non-sufficient funds.
The victimized business sends a legally required "courtesy notice" to the check writer, who has five days to remit payment. If the person does not respond, the victim contacts the Bad Check Restitution Program toll-free at (866) 398-0757, or at the Web site, www.checkprogram.com/kentcountymi. Victims fill out a crime report and follow the instructions. There is no cost to do this.
American Corrective Counseling Services will try to locate the check writer, who is advised he or she will face criminal prosecution unless full restitution is made within a specified time. The offender is also required to take an educational class on personal financial management from ACCS. The class costs the check writer $180, according to Forsyth, and a small percentage of that is rebated to the county government. The class is a a single 5 1/2-hour session.
"We are an education-based company," said Cindy Wise,
ACCS is in its 20th year of business and now generates more than $20 million a year in restitution in the 17 states in which it operates.
The program in
The largest merchant in Kent County making use of the prosecutor's bad check program is — no surprise — Meijer stores.
Stacie Behler, vice president of public affairs at Meijer Inc., could not divulge any statistics on the bad check losses suffered by Meijer but did say that "the prosecutor's program is fantastic," adding that it had "resulted in an increase in the amount of restitution we are seeing."
Not only is there no cost to the taxpayers for the Bad Check Restitution Program, it actually generates some revenue for the
Not all bad check writers referred to the Bad Check Restitution Program cooperate — which then subjects them to prosecution. The overall recovery rate of restitution in cases turned over to ACCS is about 40 percent nationwide, though it can be more than 50 percent in some regions, according to Wise.
Still, those bad check writers who do make restitution, complete the class and avoid prosecution are helping to ease the burden on police and the judicial system.
"It literally takes thousands of cases away from us," said Lt. Paul Robinson of the Wyoming Police Department. He is heading the Kent County Metropolitan Fraud and Identity Theft Unit, which coordinates police investigations in
Counterfeit checks and forgeries are much more serious criminal activities than an NSF check, usually involving greater amounts of money, and counterfeiting is a growing problem. With the use of sophisticated computers, graphic software, scanners and printers, people "can make what look like payroll checks" issued by local companies, said Robinson.
Then the checks are cashed (sometimes by gangs of people) on payday at businesses that normally cash those company payroll checks.
He said counterfeit checks are "probably the No. 1 problem" facing the Metropolitan Fraud and Identify Theft Unit, and the Bad Check Restitution Program frees up the police to focus more on the counterfeit cases.
Of course, financial crimes are just part of the workload at the Kent County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
"We do a lot of things," noted Forsyth. For example, he has 19 employees who handle nothing but paternity and non-support cases, which totaled more than 3,000 in 2005. In that year (the latest for which stats are available), the prosecutor's office employed 84 people and had an annual budget slightly less than $7 million. In 2005, the adult criminal division (with 24 attorneys and 16 support positions) obtained 2,957 felony convictions by plea or trial.
Forsyth is from the small town of
"He felt he had been trapped in the hardware store, (so) he kind of encouraged me to go to law school," said Forsyth.
"I've been fortunate that in the last three elections, nobody ran against me," said Forsyth. LQX