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Cutbacks in the state attorney's Worthless Check Division may have given carte blanche to aspiring check bouncers

"Some knowledgeable thieves are going to feel they can fool around with checks under $500 and feel free from criminal prosecution - and they'll be right," admits Leonard Lewis, Worthless Check Division chief. "All of a sudden we have a loophole." Kristina Swartz, deputy chief of the state attorney's felony division, says she hopes the Worthless Check Division will soon be able to lower the prosecution limit to $150. But she isn't sure when.

Ernest Morrow, a 21-year veteran of the Dade debt-collection business, believes the cutbacks are a sound money-saving strategy that will help free up the criminal-court system for prosecution of more serious crimes. But they also represent a new temptation. "Probably a guy like me could really rip into the system at this point," says Morrow. "I could put $5000 in a bank account, then run around town and spend $30,000 at various places. Even if the merchant called the bank to verify there was money in the account, there would be. The same day I wrote the checks, I could go to the bank and withdraw the money and skip town. By the time they processed the check, I'd be long gone."

Cutler Ridge mechanic Michael Foreman has found a sure-fire method for eliminating check fraud, one he's sure other small businesses will soon follow: "I've quit accepting personal checks altogether," he says. "You give a bounced check to a collection agency, they want 50 percent. You can subscribe to a check-cashing clearing-house where they guarantee payment on all checks, but them guys want two, two-and-a-half percent on every check. I feel like sending out Guido the Late Notice, you know what I mean? A leg breaker."

Tom Weller, a South Dade lawyer and author of a recent essay titled "What to do With a Rubber Check," urges victims to avoid using force to clear up debts. "Illegal means of collecting bad checks are often portrayed on television or in the movies," he writes in the May 1990 Homestead-Florida City Chamber of Commerce newsletter. "Do not attempt them, for your encounter with the criminal justice system will be far more harsh than that of the drawer of the check.

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