Internet Dating and Romance Scams

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Scam victim goes on trial

By Kimball Perry

The letter Tamika Thomas got in September was exciting.
It announced that her receipt from a local convenience store had automatically entered her into a sweepstakes – and she’d won $2,490.

All she had to do was contact the Nigerian letter writer, accept and cash a $2,490 check and send half back to Nigeria.

She did.

She was scammed.

Then she was arrested.

Now, she’s being prosecuted, bank employees aren’t talking and her attorney is wondering why this case is even in criminal court.

“It sounds like it’s more of a civil case. That’s why we’re going ahead with it,” said Bob Fiorenza, Thomas’ attorney.

He is insisting that Thomas, charged with theft and forgery, go to trial.

Thomas, her attorney said, is guilty – but only of being naïve enough to be scammed.

“Sure, she could have been smarter knowing you don’t just get a check for nothing,” Fiorenza said.

But he suspects the bank employees – who cashed the check – were embarrassed after they discovered the scam and called police.

Thomas, 28, of Norwood, has no criminal record other than a few driving infractions. Her actions, he insists, show she had no intent to scam Evendale Woodforest National Bank.

In September, Thomas took the check – No. 113, drawn on the Bank of New York Mellon – to the Evendale bank and deposited it.

“She waited four or five days before seeing if it cleared,” Fiorenza said.

When it did, she withdrew the money.

How, Fiorenza wondered, can Thomas be charged with theft if the bank told her the check she’d deposited was good and then gave her the money?

“They went ahead and cashed it. That’s the thing,” he said.

An attorney for the bank, Chuck Vernon, cited privacy laws in declining to talk about Thomas’ case. But he said his bank doesn’t necessarily wait for checks to clear before handing over the cash.

If the depositor endorses the check, Vernon said, “they’re responsible for the legitimacy of the check.”

“We’re out the money,” Vernon added.

Vernon noted the bank’s allegations must have had some validity because the Evendale Police Department decided to arrest Thomas.
Thomas’ actions after that, Fiorenza noted, also show she had no intent to steal.
After taking the money out of the bank, she did as instructed by the letter that announced she’d won the sweepstakes and she sent half of the money – $1,200 – back to Africa, Fiorenza said.

“They told me to send it to a friend or family member so they could have a reference number from the moneygram. All the directions were in the letter, what they told me to do,” Thomas said in a July 17 court hearing before Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge William Mallory.

“She followed the rules, but now she’s being prosecuted,” Fiorenza added.

Calls to the Evendale bank were referred to the regional manager in the Houston, Texas, area. Messages left there weren’t returned. Bank employees called Evendale police, who arrested Thomas for theft and forgery, charges that carry a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Hamilton County prosecutors are tight-lipped about the case. They say Thomas’ comments – that she is the victim of a scam – is something they hear often.

Fiorenza insisted the case go to trial without a jury. The bench trial, with Mallory presiding, is Friday.


August 6, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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