Arrested more than 15 times over the last 10 years on various drug and theft charges -- a Bryan man is once again in hot water after being accused of writing hot checks to a number of businesses in the Brazos Valley.
On any given day, well over a thousand paying customers roll through the checkout line at Village Foods in Bryan -- But not everyone is a paying customer...
"It has a direct impact on my bottom line and my ability to feed my family,” explained Village Foods owner Jim Lewis.
In 2011, Lewis says he shelled out more than $11,000 to offset uncollected funds from hot checks.
“It’s not like I can go raise prices on the merchandise because some moron is writing a bad check, so it's something that you have to suck it up with operations and try to fix the problem," said Lewis. "That is absolutely 100 percent money lost."
Indefinitely locked up inside the Brazos County Jail is where Michael LaCharles Cole will be spending time after being accused of writing hot checks to various businesses and grocery chains, including HEB, in the Brazos Valley.
After searching his record, we found Cole is no stranger behind bars. In fact, since 2003, he has been arrested more than 15 times with more than half of those arrests related to theft by check. Cole is now charged with six counts of theft with two or more prior convictions.
"Once they're on their third theft, after two previous convictions, regardless of the level of theft, it is a felony, which is punishable up to two years in a state jail," said Brazos County Assistant District Attorney Kara Comte.
"One of the nice things about an intimate store like Village Foods is we know our customers really well, so we can circumvent that," said Lewis. "For us, if an unfamiliar face comes in and writes us a check and we have any suspicions, that's when you say okay, we could have a problem here."
Lewis says he's managed to remedy what he calls 'the inevitable' by using technology as his first line of defense.
"It has definitely gotten better over the years. Before you would have someone come in, sometimes even multiple times a day and write hot checks and it would be days before the check came through," said Lewis. "Now, when we punch in your driver’s license number it goes out to a main frame that checks and confirms if this person has written a check and it tells you whether or not this check will bounce and if it's fired back then we don't accept it."
In the meantime, he is sticking to his plan; one that will continue backfiring on the crooks trying to cash in on an honest days' work.
"We live in a community that has a rich tradition in honesty and integrity and we still have those small town values and you want to hold on to those and it feels to me like they are a big city problem," added Lewis. "But apparently that's not the case."
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