Man Jailed Over Fraudulent Check That Wasn’t Fraudulent

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Wow.

But when Njoku showed up at the Chase branch near his house intending to cash the check, he was in for a nasty surprise.

The check had Njoku’s name and address on it and was issued by JP Morgan Chase. But the Chase Customer Banker who handles large checks at the Auburn branch was immediately suspicious.

“I was embarrassed,” Njoku said. “She asked me what I did for a living. Asked me where I got the check from, looked me up and down—like ‘you just bought a house in Auburn, really?’ She didn’t believe that,” he said.

The Customer Banker said the check looked fake, so she took it, along with Njoku’s driver license and credit card, and called Bank Support.

After waiting for about 15 minutes, Njoku said he got impatient and told Chase he was leaving to do an important errand. By the time he got back, the bank was closed. Njoku said he called customer service and asked them what he should do. He says they told him to go back to the bank the next day to get his money.

But when Njoku arrived, it wasn’t the money that was waiting for him.

“They just threw me in jail; they called the police and said this guy has a fraudulent check,” Njoku said.

Auburn police arrested him for forgery – a felony crime.

“I was like – you’re making a mistake, you’re making a mistake, don’t take me to jail, I got work tomorrow. I can’t afford to miss work,” he said.

Yes, they took him the jail. This was on a Thursday. The bank realized the next day that they had made a mistake, and called the police detective working the case to let her know. Unfortunately, “it was her day off” (!!), so the guy stayed in jail all weekend. He also lost his job for failing to show up for work. While he was in jail, Chase had his car towed from their parking lot. Because Chase had his money (the chashier’s check was his savings from a closed-out account), he couldn’t afford the impound fees. And because the check was seized as evidence, it took weeks to get it back, during which his car was sold then at auction.

A year later, and only after an attorney took up the guy’s case (PDF), Chase finally issued an apology. I’d say they owe him some compensation, too.

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36 Responses to “Man Jailed Over Fraudulent Check That Wasn’t Fraudulent”

  1. #1 |  Mannie | 

    Sounds like he has grounds for a pretty fat lawsuit. I wish him success in that.

  2. #2 |  JS | 

    I have a friend who stayed in jail all weekend for not having an ID on her. It was in Houston. Nobody gives a damn in America, going to jail is becoming the norm for a lot of people and most Americans just accept it as no bog deal.

  3. #3 |  Highway | 

    One of the biggest things I’m continually learning from this blog is the large amount of punishment that is exacted on anyone who is even momentarily suspected of some crime. This is an extreme case, but even someone who just gets arrested, has to go to jail, deal with intake, put in a cell, deal with bail bondsmen (who have a pretty good racket of their own set up with the punishment system), deal with getting their stuff back if they ever can, is put through a pretty tough ringer.

    This is where my sarcasm about those DA’s that act like such nice guys when they decline to press charges comes from. For any person, that’s a ton of undeserved punishment they’ve already endured, and it’s just blown off by the meat grinder system who says “oh, well we didn’t charge you, so no harm done”.

  4. #4 |  JS | 

    Highway “One of the biggest things I’m continually learning from this blog is the large amount of punishment that is exacted on anyone who is even momentarily suspected of some crime.”

    We’ve become a country full of Nancy Grace’s.

  5. #5 |  Stephen | 

    Wow, this website looks like it has gone nuts. Font sizes, scrolling off the right side of the page, comments in weird places, etc.

  6. #6 |  BSK | 

    I’m no lawyer, but my hunch is he’ll have trouble with a lawsuit. All Chase has to do is argue that they have reasonable cause to call the police. From there, they can blame the police for much of what happened, including his extended detainment, the freezing of the check, etc, etc, etc. So he’ll have to sue the cops and we all know how well that works. Unfortunately, I’m skeptical that he’ll get what he deserves, which is utter bullshit.

  7. #7 |  Jay | 

    BSK, I’m no lawyer either, but it seems to me that this is one of those “knew, or should have known” situations. Chase was the issuer of the check, and they issued it to him, so how could they claim that they acted in good faith when they claimed it was fake?

  8. #8 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    All the new traffic broke the site. Last night one of the comment threads was going from one comment, to 64 comments, to 2, to 24, to 28, to 1 again. Was crazy. Time to expand, Radley?

  9. #9 |  BSK | 

    Jay-

    Good point, but my hunch is that they’ll argue that JP Morgan Chase and Chase Bank are different entities and that suspicion is warranted. Then they’ll blame the guy for leaving the bank, a “suspicious” act if there ever was one, and insist that there isn’t communication between phone-based customer service and individual branches.

    I’m not saying any of it is right, but I’ve gotten tangled up in enough messes dealing with independent entities of a single organization to know that they are very good as passing off accountability. And given that this guy might be in for 7 figures of restitution between the bank and the cops, and they will spin the shit out of it. Hell, they can simply insist that this was the result of a well-intentioned but overzealous teller who was new on the job.

  10. #10 |  a_random_guy | 

    Yet another anecdote showing why one should avoid the big banks. They do not care about “normal” people – our deposits and piddly amounts of money are little more than a nuisance. I was hit with the clue bat when I wanted to take out a mortgage. I supposedly had a customer service representative whom I could call about whatever I wanted. She did not have time to talk to me about a mortgage though. I got so frustrated that I went to the bank and demanded to see her – I wound up talking to her on the phone from the lobby, and she refused to see me. We immediately closed all accounts – business and private – and moved to a local bank (which, just incidentally, was more than happy to give us a mortgage as well).

    The big banks are poison. Stick with a local bank or a credit union.

  11. #11 |  FTP | 

    @BSK
    I’m not a lawyer either, but could a teller’s inexperience really be used as a defense? I would think company would be responsibile for the actions of its employees, and that it would be responsible to train them properly.

  12. #12 |  Not guilty, not that it matters § Unqualified Offerings | 

    […] has a post up about a guy who was arrested for trying to cash a fake check…except the check wasn’t […]

  13. #13 |  John Jenkins | 

    I’ve got a better story than this one:

    When I was in law school, I volunteered at the public defender’s office. One day a case came in where the defendant was charged with forgery in the second degree for signing a check that isn’t his. We’ll call the defendant John Smith. Mr. Smith had never even been charged with a crime before, was mentally disabled, and his only source of income was SSI. He walked into a grocery store one day to cash his SSI check, signed the name John Smith to the check, got his money and left. He was arrested at some point the week before, and the file came to us on a Friday.

    Unfortunately, SSA had determined that Mr. Smith was dead. So they told the D.A.’s office that someone was forging Mr. Smith’s name. So, using the address information on the check that the grocery store had collected, the police found Mr. Smith and arrested him. The D.A. charged him with forgery in the second degree and since he was poor and couldn’t make bail, Mr. Smith was sitting in jail on that charge for having signed his own name to his own check.

    We approached the white collar A.D.A. and explained the situation, which was basically: he’s not dead. The D.A. refused to dismiss the case and said if Mr. Smith didn’t take a plea, the A.D.A. would take the case to trial. We pointed out that our defense to the crime was going to be, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant, John Smith, is alive and sitting at this table beside me.” This did not convince the A.D.A., but we were finally able to convince him to at least give Mr. Smith an O.R. bond, since the man was (a) mentally disabled; and (b) had never even been charged with a crime before.

    Then, when we took the O.R. bond order to the judge, the Judge’s bailiff would not let us see the Judge because the bailiff had determined that the Judge had signed enough orders for the day. So, now I have a guy who has been in jail for a week (for nothing), and some self-important bitch in the Judge’s office is keeping that completely innocent man in jail for some reason I cannot fathom. Amazingly, I do not murder her, and we are able to get the head of the office (the actual “Public Defender” for the county, rather than one of his assistants) to get in to see the judge, who immediately signs the order. We somehow manage to get the jail to do us a favor and process Mr. Smith out, and he does not have to spend the weekend in jail for having not committed a crime.

    Eventually, the idiot D.A. accepts the conclusion of SSA that they had screwed up and Mr. Smith was not, in fact, dead, and the charges were dismissed. This was the case that made me decide I could not practice criminal law because sooner rather than later I would need a defense attorney myself, if I did.

  14. #14 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    BTW, something is screwed up with your site templates, because things are randomly being displayed in two columns when I come here today (up until yesterday evening, everything was fine). Like on this page, the comments are being displayed to the right of the main article. On the main page, some of the articles are on the left column and some are on the right.

  15. #15 |  davidst | 

    “I’d say they owe him some compensation, too”

    Understatement of the year!

  16. #16 |  yonemoto | 

    I’m no fan of the banks, but is it just me but does most of the blame here lie with the state? The state arrested the guy and threw him in jail without thoroughly checking out the case, the state wasn’t able to free him on friday even though the bank did due diligence. The state wouldn’t release the check (because it was ‘evidence’). The bank was well within its rights to tow the guy’s car (and probably didn’t even know it was his).

  17. #17 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    Yay, the website is fixed!

  18. #18 |  croaker | 

    @2 Houston, eh? Got another one from that area:

    http://www.ar15.com/forums/topic.html?b=1&f=5&t=1204726&page=1

    I hope someone in the press picks up on this story.

  19. #19 |  JD | 

    So, They treated him like a thief?
    He IS a thief- constantly bouncing checks, according to the story,
    and then, he uses a US Govt program to STEAL money from the rest of us to buy a house? To pay off a luxury car? With OUR. DAMN. MONEY!
    Granted, the bank really screwed up here, and there’s no way this guy should have been put through this…
    Just damn.. we’ll pay for his settlement and legal fees as well

  20. #20 |  J.S. | 

    Sigh, its time to take a break from Agitator. I’m getting too angry from reading these examples of insane government.

    Croaker, there is so much wrong in that story I don’t know where to begin. The judge plea bargain threat, the idiot DA, the doctor being stubborn, the guy not getting a lawyer and now he’s got a charge on his record for just having a sick daughter. The public schools gotta have those bums on seats to get their budgets funded.

  21. #21 |  c andrew | 

    “We are working quickly to understand all the details so we can reach a fair resolution.”

    Here’s a resolution that would be commensurate with your actions. Let’s put one of your people in jail for misprision of false imprisonment. Perhaps someone on the CEO or board level?

    The thing that is so stupid here is that all the teller had to do was call the issuing bank and give the certified check number. My (small) bank and credit union do that sort of thing all the time.

  22. #22 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @10 – Absolutely. The Co-Operative banks (actually quite a few local banks under a national branding) are good in the UK as well.

  23. #23 |  edmund dantes | 

    And JD and people like him/her is the reason why prosecutors, cops, and politicians know they can never go wrong by eroding our liberties by pointing out “they are only targeting bad people”.

    Really sad.

  24. #24 |  Nash | 

    @croaker

    Just wow. Further down in the thread, this stuck out at me…

    “Judge said if we pled no contenst, he’d find you guilty. If you pled innocent and were found guilty, he’d increase the fines and punishment to the max. He said, ‘You better understand that you are here today because you have committed a CRIME.'”

    So the judge, before a plea, tells the guy he committed a crime? How friggin deranged is that?

  25. #25 |  Chris | 

    I’m disappointed there’s no “the system worked” quote in the story. He wasn’t convicted of any crime, so everything’s fine.

  26. #26 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    case from this week that did not make it to the internet:

    KNOTTS v. CARREIRA (N.D.Cal. 7-7-2011)
    United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division.
    July 7, 2011
    I. BACKGROUND
    The material facts essentially are undisputed. On the afternoon of August 7, 2008, the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) received a report from an individual named Charles Sisson, who claimed that a threat had been made against him. Statement of Undisputed Facts (SUF) ¶ 1. Officers Carreira and Ernst were dispatched to Sisson’s workplace at 1525 Walsh Avenue. Sisson told the officers that his brother-in-law, Chris Dangerfield, had threatened him with serious bodily injury, telling him that “[w]hen I’m done with you I’m gonna make sure that you breathe through a straw.” Id. ¶ 2. Sisson told the officers that Dangerfield was known to carry a wrench or pipe with him and allegedly had “muscle” from a motorcycle gang called the Regulators at his disposal. Id. ¶ 3; Carreira Dep. 68:2-14. Carreira and Ernst commenced surveillance of 1525 Walsh Avenue at approximately 3:00 p.m. About thirty minutes later, Knotts, an unemployed machinist, drove his Jeep Cherokee down Walsh Avenue in search of a business called Danny’s Recycling, intending to recycle three computer monitors. Knotts Dep. 12:14-13:6, 26:11-25. Danny’s Recycling is located at 1745 Walsh Avenue, but Knotts had transposed the number to “1475” when writing the address on his notepad. Knotts Dep. 28:4-10; Carreira Dep. 114:13-19. The officers watched Knotts’s vehicle approach 1525 Walsh Avenue, drive slowly past, turn around, and then drive slowly past again. SUF ¶ 5. The officers decided to stop Knotts on suspicion that he was Dangerfield’s agent and was planning to carry out the threats made against Sisson. SUF ¶ 7. Using a loudspeaker, the officers ordered Knotts to throw his keys out the window, show his hands, and step out of the vehicle. SUF ¶ 8. After Knotts complied, the officers approached with their guns drawn. Knotts Dep. 49:13-18; Ernst Dep. 60:2-3. Knotts then was frisked and handcuffed. SUF ¶ 9. The officers ran Knotts’s identification through their database and determined that Knotts had no criminal record or warrants. Id. ¶ 13. They brought Sisson outside to see if he recognized Knotts, which he did not. Id. Knotts denied knowing Dangerfield or having any involvement in drug use or motorcycle gangs. Id. ¶ 11. Knotts was questioned about where he worked and why he had monitors in his car. Officer Carreira, who previously had worked undercover in a criminal investigation involving e-waste
    Page 3
    recycling, was suspicious of Knotts’s explanation that he was looking for the recycling center. Carreira Dep. 108:14-109:3, 110:12-111:11. Carreira knew that Danny’s Recycling was nearby and marked with large signs; and he believed that it was common knowledge that recycling centers are not open after 3:00 p.m. Id. 39:4-13, 44:18-25, 108:14-112:23, 120:7-24. Based on his suspicion, Carreira asked for Knotts’s permission to search the vehicle. Knotts said that officers could “go ahead.”[fn2] During the search, officers found a metal manifold in the back seat. The manifold bore distinct similarities to a P-24 police baton, commonly known as a “billy club.” SUF ¶ 17. A billy club is an illegal weapon pursuant to California Penal Code § 12020. Knotts told the officers that the manifold was not a weapon but rather was an example of his work as a machinist that he intended to show to potential employers. Carreira Dep. 12:18-21, 116:25-117:6. Knotts was arrested for possession of an illegal weapon and was transported to the Santa Clara County Main Jail, where he was held overnight. SUF ¶¶ 18-19. In January 2009, the state court dismissed the criminal case and entered a finding of factual innocence. Knotts Dep. 73:5-8.

    . . .
    As discussed above, the Court concludes that the officers’ actions in this case were reasonable under the circumstances.
    III. ORDER
    Good cause appearing, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted. The pretrial and trial dates are hereby vacated. The Clerk shall enter the judgment and close the file. IT IS SO ORDERED.
    . . .

    [fn5] Defendants acknowledge that Knotts did not meet Sisson’s description of Dangerfield and did not look like a “biker” or methamphetamine user. Carreira Dep. 38:12-:39-10.

    [fn6] Quoting a Seventh Circuit case, Knotts aptly observes that: “Probable cause may be loose concept, but it leaves no room for the absurd.” Pl.’s Op. 12-13 (quoting Fox v. Hayes, 600 F.3d 819, 834 (7th Cir. 2010)). While Knotts understandably is upset about what happened to him, the actions of Officers Carreira and Ernst were not so extreme.

  27. #27 |  Stella | 

    I had a friend who went to cash a check his girlfriend had written at a Chase bank. They’d just arrived back in NYC after trekking in the Baja Peninsula and he had a beard and was very tan.

    He was arrested and put in jail for 45 minutes. When his girlfriend found out where he was, of course, she was able to say that she’d written the check for him to cash.

    They got a 40K settlement.

    It was not a check issued by the bank. It was less than two hours of his life.

  28. #28 |  Stella | 

    I should mention the check was made out to his name.

  29. #29 |  Buzz | 

    Bank issues check. Bank refused to honor check. Bank files charges against person with check for forging a check the issued. Bank has person arrested. Since bank had person arrested, persons car stays in bank parking lot. Bank has car towed. Bank decides it did indeed issue check, calls state to drop charges. Cop bank calls not working that day, bank leaves message instead of making sure actual person knows innocent person in jail. State refuses to immediately return check. Bank refuses to reissue check. Person looses car, job. And someone thinks the bank isn’t responsible and all this isn’t actionable?

  30. #30 |  BSK | 

    Buzz-

    Not sure if your comment was directed towards me, but I don’t think anyone is saying the bank isn’t responsible or that this isn’t actionable. My point was that the guy is going to have an uphill battle to climb because most of the people involved are not going to see it as simply or logically as you just stated it. There is no doubt that this man was wronged several times over and those responsible should be held accountable. I’m just skeptical as to whether it will actually play out that way.

  31. #31 |  GVJaneAz | 

    This is absolutely the most ridiculous story I have read recently! The Bank should be sued, that teller fired, and the State Banking Commission’s investigation of Chase and their business and customer relations. Big heads-up for those of us who might consider using this bank in the future.

  32. #32 |  Joe in Missouri | 

    Banking is a criminal enterprise people. Get it through your heads.

    Watch “The money masters”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLRfTYu4KMM

  33. #33 |  Joe | 

    What about the cops? Aren’t cops required to perfrom even a small measure of investigation before arresting someone of a felony – which stays on your permanent record forever. Good luck getting a job.

  34. #34 |  jshubbub | 

    @JD You wrote:

    “He IS a thief- constantly bouncing checks, according to the story,
    and then, he uses a US Govt program to STEAL money from the rest of us to buy a house? To pay off a luxury car? With OUR. DAMN. MONEY!”

    Apparently, you have a difficult time discerning the difference between criminal behavior and irresponsible behavior. In this case, Mr. Njoku exhibited irresponsible behavior by bouncing some indeterminate number of checks. There is no evidence that he was constantly doing so, as you claim. However, it wasn’t enough to cause the bank to refer him to the authorities, and there was clearly no warrant issued which indicates that the bank covered the checks. Furthermore, Mr. Njoku paid what he owed the bank, and that was the end of it. No criminal behavior here therefore nothing to indicate that he is, as you claim, a thief.

    As to the claim that he “stole” money from the rest of us by taking advantage of a government program, I have to throw the BS flag. There is no indication in the article that he intended to pay off a luxury car with government money, just that he planned to pay one off. The means to do so are never discussed. The tax credit for first-time home buyers has been available to anyone who purchased a first home for a number of years. Is it your contention that anyone who has claimed that tax credit is a thief, or is it just Mr. Njoku who has raised your pique? Why, may I ask? Is it because he’s a person of the brown persuasion? Or that he doesn’t have an acceptably European name? Or that he has the temerity to aspire to a middle class lifestyle without having achieved it yet? Is he failing to keep his place, as you see it? I’d love to hear your reasons.

    For that matter, in the past year I have claimed a tax credit for installing new, energy efficient windows in my home and taken out a new FHA mortgage for a refinance. Do these two instances qualify me as a thief? Why or why not?

  35. #35 |  Gimmel Yod | 

    Filing a false police report is a CRIME. The bank committed a CRIME in filing that report. He needs a lawyer that can make a civil jury sympathetic to his plight & finding one such that will work on a contingency should not be difficult –as the Jury will probably find for him and award MASSIVE punitive damages aga8inst the bank. I know I would.

  36. #36 |  PaultheCabDriver | 

    I will no longer be doing business with Chase because of this. As soon as my Chase credit card is paid off, which is my only current connection with them, it is over.

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