On an occasion when I was early on the bench, it fell to my lot to call the calendar of ancient
criminal cases to see what could be done, if anything, to lighten the docket load of our overburdened
Court. A case came up a bit out of the ordinary — a forgery case, itself ordinary enough, but the
circumstances were unusual. A defendant serving time for check irregularities in Virginia was
lodged in the D.C. Jail to stand trial on two forgery and uttering indictments arising out of a prolific
check kiting scheme, the modus operandi by which bad checks follow bad checks to cover balances
in banks initially created by deposit of bad checks, all to the end of creating larger withdrawals from
nonexistent funds. The details are of no account. He was guilty and readily admitted same. But the
defendant’s affairs were complicated, for other charges emanating from other alleged forgeries were
pending in a number of jurisdictions. It seemed best to bring all outstanding federal offenses within
one jurisdiction and, with due care, work out a single disposition which would place defendant one
with society and after sufficient time in the penitentiary hopefully somewhat rehabilitated. He was
a likeable chap, as indeed many confidence men are; educated and not without family advantages.
The D.C. Jail authorities liked him and, sorely pressed for funds under miserly congressional
appropriation, he had moved to a position of some consequence handling records at the institution.
Having received assurance that the court was sincerely interested in his future, having
changed lawyers a number of times, and having set the stage to his liking, defendant pled guilty and
some three weeks of technical proof tracing checks through many banks and gullible tellers was
avoided. The Probation Office was asked for a detailed report, a troublesome docket problem was
resolved, and justice at least appeared to be moving in the right direction.
Soon a Probation Officer sought to interview the miscreant only to be informed that the
defendant had been released and had gone his way. It soon developed that a master forgery unique
in the annals of jurisprudence in the District of Columbia had occurred.
Working from his position of advantage at the D.C. Jail, defendant had drawn a spurious
order in convincing legalese absolving himself of all debts to society and directing his immediate
release. The paper he executed was almost flawless — signed by the Assistant U.S. Attorney,
defendant’s lawyer, and the Judge. It was made even more authoritative by stamp, clerk’s signature
and other indicia of total regulatory. But, in fact, it was a total, albeit a highly imaginative, fraud.
Lacking only a proper seal, the forged order had cleared unsuspecting jail authorities who wished
defendant well and sent him unencumbered on his way.
Few forgers can equal this distinction for most forgeries are more materialistic, and money
motivates the work so painstakingly done. Forgers have pride in their work. This cannot be
questioned. Not so long ago a man accused of forgery was acquitted by a jury when, putting his
constitutional rights to one side, he took the stand to advise the jury that he was a superior forger
with many convictions but could not possibly have been responsible for the crude, makeshift forgery
of which he was then being accused. This pride in work done earned him at least temporary
The instant case can only evoke admiration for a daring job well done. Imagine the thought
and care that went into it. It’s sublime bravado. And, of course, the feeling of accomplishment and
amusement which accompanied him as he walked to freedom one day after pleading guilty. He will
return, for the FBI will not smile on such conduct. Retribution will be sought, but his moment will
not be forgotten. Unfortunately his combination of skill and personality will no longer be sought in
the jail’s record office — or will it?