published Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Retrial begins for Atlanta man in Chattanooga check fraud scheme

A federal prosecutor dropped two of six charges against an Atlanta man accused in a local check fraud scheme after investigators could not locate two witnesses.

On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Brooks dropped two bank-fraud charges, but proceeded in the retrial of Herschel Hargett on three counts of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Hargett is accused in a counterfeit check-cashing scheme at Regions Bank on Gunbarrel Road and at GreenBank in Athens, Tenn., in 2010.

The indictment alleges that Hargett recruited homeless men in Atlanta who were taken to Tennessee to pose as construction workers and cash counterfeit payroll checks.

In June, U.S. District Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice declared a mistrial after a deadlocked jury couldn't reach a verdict.

Hargett testified in those proceedings that he was a patsy who was paid $100 on four different occasions to show two men, referred to only as Josh and Marco, to Atlanta homeless areas.

He said he not to know about the fraud scheme.

But U.S. Secret Service special agent Douglas Dale testified Tuesday that Hargett gave a statement that he was involved in the scheme to him and two other agents in August 2010, three months after the homeless men were arrested for trying to cash checks at the GreenBank in Athens, Tenn.

Hargett also wrote a statement that referred to details about the fraud scheme during the interview.

During trips to Rome, Ga., Chattanooga and Athens, police arrested men who were able to cash checks for as much as $2,800. Dale said he found Hargett after one of the homeless men, Eric Williams, told Dale that Hargett recruited him. Dale found Hargett's number in Williams' cellphone.

While waiting to testify Tuesday, Williams was arrested on a probation violation in the hallway of the Chattanooga federal courthouse.

On the witness stand, Williams sparred with Hargett's attorney, Lee Ortwein, who detailed the man's past criminal history, drug abuse, mental health problems and most recent charge of male prostitution and failed drug tests.

Williams said Hargett, whom witnesses called "Dred" because of his dreadlock hairstyle, picked him up in midtown Atlanta and took him to a hotel where he and other men were given drugs and alcohol and told to hand over their ID cards.

The next morning, the men called Josh and Marco drove them to Tennessee to cash the checks.

The questioning mirrored much of Ortwein's defense in the first trial when he asked the jury to look closely at the witnesses who benefited from plea deals with prosecutors in exchange for testimony.

The trial resumes this morning. Brooks told Mattice he had one more witness, then Ortwein will have an opportunity to call defense witnesses.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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TERRORALERT said...

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October 19, 2011 at 5:56 p.m.
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