published Friday, July 1st, 2011

Hung jury in check fraud case

The case of an Atlanta man accused of recruiting for a check-cashing scheme ended in a mistrial Thursday afternoon.

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The U.S. District Court jury spent several hours deliberating but couldn’t reach consensus as to whether Herschel Hargett recruited homeless people in Atlanta and took them to Tennessee to cash more than $13,000 in fake payroll checks at Regions Bank on Gunbarrel Road and at GreenBank in Athens, Tenn. He reportedly was paid $400 to do so by one of the scheme’s ringleaders, who Hargett said presented himself as an Ohio businessman named Josh.

Hargett was charged with five counts of bank fraud and one conspiracy charge.

With the jury hung on whether Hargett was guilty, Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice declared a mistrial.

Whether Hargett will be tried again is up to the U.S. attorney’s office. Attempts to reach the prosecuting and defense attorneys were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.

During the two-day trial, five homeless men testified the defendant picked them up in Atlanta and took them to a local hotel room. The men, who picked Hargett out of a photo lineup, said they were given food, drugs and alcohol while they stayed the night in the hotel, then were taken to Tennessee to cash the checks.

During the course of the Secret Service investigation that led to the charges, Hargett, a video production student at the Art Institute of Atlanta, wrote a statement detailing how the scheme worked.

“His statement alone is enough to find him guilty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Brooks told the jury Wednesday.

But Hargett testified he didn’t know anything about the scheme when he showed homeless shelters to one of the scheme’s leaders. Instead, Hargett said he pieced together his statement from what he knew and the details authorities told him as they interviewed him.

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