Wal-Mart’s decision to reconsider continuing to use district attorneys to collect bogus check for the company comes as welcome news to prosecutors.

District Attorney Richard L. Gray said he’s been looking at other ways to make up for the funding loss created by the lack of Wal-Mart checks. Five different Wal-Mart stores use Gray’s office to collect checks for them.

“We’ve done good year to year collecting for them and other merchants,” he said.

Gray’s office nets about $90,000 a year from checks it collects for Wal-Mart.

“If we lost that and couldn’t replace it with something, it’d be the equivalent of about three staff positions for us,” he said.

Wal-Mart was considering using a third-party to collect bad checks.

“Because most of our stores had already been using a third-party collection agency for bad checks, we did not fully anticipate the impact the change in procedure might have on local district attorneys serving some of our stores,” Sharon Weber, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman told the Associated Press. “For that reason, we have decided to re-examine this issue and consider if any modifications in the programs can be made to minimize that impact.”

Gray said check collections in District 27 are up about 30 percent, but people aren’t writing as many checks with new payment methods being available.

“Some districts have sweeps during the year where they serve warrants on hot check writers,” he said. “We’ve had a guy out there every day.”

Many district attorneys demand payment from people who write bad checks. The face value of the check and other fees go to the merchant and prosecutors add on a collection charge that can be a significant source of revenue for district attorneys. In Oklahoma, this charge is about $140 per check.

The charge helps fund district attorney expenses and pays for bogus check programs that often allow people to avoid prosecution by making restitution and taking classes on check fraud.

Some district attorneys have indicated they don’t like the fact that check restitution fees, property forfeitures and other criminal justice fees provide a lot of their operating budgets.

Gray agreed that a good chunk of the local budget comes from those areas. He said some prosecutors also rely on grants to help stretch their state dollars.

“Grants are supposed to be seed money to help you get a program started,” he said. “We’re doing some re-evaluating and looking for other ways to supplement our budget.”

Prosecutors get $10 for every traffic ticket filed, $25 for every felony case filed and $15 for every juvenile and misdemeanor case filed, said Byron Cate, the District Attorney’s Council director of finance.

District attorneys should educate local lawmakers about the history of funding the system and the problem with the current setup, Bill Peterson, district attorney for Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes counties, told the AP.

Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said the Legislature operates in a crisis management mode.

“If the wolf is not at the door, they don’t react,” he said.


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