An Ohio banking spokesman says the case of a forged $134,000 check in Liberty Township’s name is “unusual” for crimes of this type.
Meanwhile, former Liberty Township fiscal officer Mark Gerber says the signature on the forged check does resemble his own. Current township fiscal officer Nancy Denutte told The Gazette earlier this week that the other three signatures are reproductions of the three township trustees’ signatures.
The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the forged check, which was made out to a used-car dealer in Great Britain and apparently cashed.
“This check looks too real to me,” Gerber told The Gazette Thursday. “It looks really close. It looks too good not to possibly be a real one.”
Looking at his signature on the forged check, Gerber said it is close. “A signature starts to deteriorate,” depending on how many checks were signed in a row, he said.
The township has had a couple of other incidents in the past with check fraud, Gerber said. However, Gerber said he hasn’t seen a forgery at this level or anything close to it when he was fiscal officer. “This deserves a little more investigation,” he said.
Even though the check does look close to the real thing, it still should have been checked on before it was cashed, says one expert.
“You’re not going to get a British bank easily accepting a foreign check without some sort of investigation first,” said James Thurston, vice president of public relations of the Ohio Bankers League. “There would have been some sort of verification in the (United Kingdom).”
Typically check fraud consists of stolen checks or manipulated copies that have been cashed. But this case has taken forgery to a new level, he said. “These criminals are becoming more sophisticated,” Thurston said. “There seems to be a lot of moving parts to this one and, since the case involves the UK, it’s a complex case.”
Denutte discovered the forged check while reconciling checks to the township’s bank statement.
At a glance, the forged check looked authentic and included the signatures of all three township trustees and that of Gerber since he was the fiscal officer at the time, Denutte said.
“‘Who is this?’ was the big thing that came to mind,” Denutte said when she first saw the canceled check and became suspicious. “I had a check with everyone’s signatures on it.”
She said she also noticed the number on the check. “The check number was one that we haven’t even gotten up to (in the sequence),” Denutte said.
The sheriff’s office got involved in the case on May 3 when deputies were called to the Liberty Township offices in Powell.
Officials from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office said they have reached out to Interpol — the International Criminal Police Organization — about the forgery but, as of Wednesday, had not received word from the agency. The sheriff’s office had no new information about the investigation Thursday.
The check was reportedly cashed by a used-car dealer in Great Britain at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The Royal Bank of Scotland sent the check to the Delaware County Bank after cashing it. “How could our bank possibly let that check go through?” Denutte said Tuesday. “I contacted our bank. The money was back in our account the next day.”
Denutte said the creation of the forged check and transaction possibly had all taken place online. It’s believed the trustees’ signatures came from signed public documents on the township’s website. “Banks don’t look at the checks,” she said. “They look at the account numbers. To keep it from happening again, we have taken steps to make sure it doesn’t.”
When contacted by The Gazette, the Delaware County Bank referred the newspaper to Thurston at the Ohio Bankers League. Thurston said that “Delaware County Bank has done all the right things” in crediting the township’s account immediately.
Denutte has been the fiscal officer for the township since April 1 this year.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.