Novel check scam lands landscaper in jail
Paul Mutschler usually doesn’t write personal checks to people he doesn’t know. Earlier this month, a Garfield man he had hired to do some lawn work reminded him why.
“This guy found a unique way to get my information,” Mutschler, 61, of Mt. Oliver, said Wednesday. “Next time I have to write a check to someone other than a utility, I’ll take them to the bank and watch them cash it.”
Allegheny County police on Tuesday arrested Huey “Jim” Williams, 49, on charges he created $4,500 in bogus checks with Mutschler’s account and routing numbers, then cashed them at Giant Eagle supermarkets.
Williams, of Black Street in Garfield, was in the county jail yesterday on $5,000 bond. He faces a hearing Monday in Mt. Oliver on four counts each of access device fraud, writing bad checks and forgery, and one count of theft.
Police said they are investigating whether someone helped Williams create the bogus checks on a computer. The checks were designed to look like paychecks from his employer, Hospital Central Services of Oakland.
In August, a tenant in one of Mutschler’s rental properties in Highland Park suggested he hire Williams to cut the grass at the apartment building. Mutschler said he paid Williams with a check because he needed a record for tax purposes.
When Mutschler went to the bank a few weeks later, the manager told him his checking account was overdrawn. A printout showed checks with five-digit numbers — his only have four — being cashed in Penn Hills, O’Hara, West Homestead and West Mifflin.
“I made sure to get his address when I wrote him the check, and I’m glad I did,” Mutschler said.
Police quickly traced the checks to Williams, who wrote them to himself and endorsed them with his own signature, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed to support the charges. Surveillance cameras at the supermarkets show Williams cashing the checks.
Mutschler said Northwest Savings Bank and Giant Eagle covered the cost of the checks Williams allegedly forged. But fixing the mess cost him time and caused embarrassment.
“I had to call companies, and people to whom I’d written checks after this and tell them not to deposit them. I had to explain why checks bounced. I’m the one who looks like a jerk,” he said.