Man seeks $8,000 in smokes, is held

A Fairmount Heights man was charged Friday with attempted theft and several counts of forgery after he tried to use a counterfeit check to buy more than $8,000 worth of Newport cigarettes from a Waldorf Sam’s Club, police said.

Sounds stupid, except that Nathaniel A. Stewart, 44, had tried the same scheme three times before and not been arrested, police said. Once, he successfully purchased more than $8,000 in smokes, they said.

“He was determined to get away with it,” said Diane Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.

The scheme began Nov. 15, when Stewart walked into the Sam’s Club on Crain Highway and tried to purchase Newport cigarettes with a $3,098.27 check, according to police charging documents. Store employees turned him away, police said.

It didn’t deter Stewart, police said. The next day, they said, he returned to the store to buy Marlboro cigarettes with two checks totaling $8,377.99. This time, he got the smokes. A manager later discovered that the checks were probably counterfeit, police said.

Federal law says it is illegal to possess more than 10,000 cigarettes “which bear no evidence of the payment of applicable State or local cigarette taxes.” It is not clear whether Sam’s Club broke any laws in selling such a large quantity to Stewart. No one answered a phone at the Sam’s Club on Monday afternoon.

Perhaps because it had worked so well before, Stewart returned to the store the next day seeking $3,338.12 worth of cigarettes, police said. This time, employees declined his check and called police. A patrol officer went to the store, told employees not to go through with the sale and said he would forward the information to the financial crimes unit, Richardson said. But Stewart was not charged and was sent on his way.

“The first time, it wasn’t clear,” she said of why Stewart wasn’t charged immediately. “All the information was forwarded to our financial crimes unit, and then a detective there started researching it.”

That detective soon found that Stewart’s check, drawing from a fictitious institution called the Maryland State Republic International Bill of Exchange, was bogus.

But Stewart remained undeterred, police said. On Friday, he returned to the Sam’s Club with a check for more than $8,000. Employees again called police, and this time Stewart was arrested and charged.

Police found that he was carrying several more counterfeit checks for thousands of dollars written to Sam’s Club, Lowe’s, Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

Court records show that Stewart was released the same day he was arrested. He could not be reached for comment. A phone number listed in court records was invalid. He told the officers who arrested him that they were “making a huge mistake” and that the large sums of money he claimed to have on his checks came from a trust fund to which he was entitled, according to police documents.

Richardson said investigators think Stewart was probably trying to resell the merchandise. They are still searching for the Newport cigarettes from his successful buy in mid-November, she said.

“Cigarettes are expensive, there’s a need for them and he’s got a market,” she said. “There may be a more sophisticated scheme than just selling them out of the back of his house. . . . We’re just at the tip of the iceberg with this guy.”

source: http://www.washingtonpost.com

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