The scam was simple but well-organized: With a copy of the VersaChex payroll software used by banks, Pham and his minion of forgers printed false checks. In turn, these paychecks were given to so-called "passers" -- out-of-staters who obtained IDs with fake Oregon addresses. After cashing the phony paychecks, the passers held 40 to 60 percent of their "pay"; they gave the rest to the criminal masterminds. According to the indictment, Pham was conducting similar operations in Washington, Texas and Utah.
Mr. Pham's attorney, Steven Unger, valiantly defended the innocence of his client. In one brief, snidely titled "ENDLESS BATTLE AGAINST FALSE KNOWLEDGE DISGUISED AS WISDOM," Unger argued for the invalidation of the entire field of forensic handwriting analysis, equating it with such quackery as Phrenology, Astrology, and "Neutron Activation Analysis." He also attempted to convince the court that his client could not speak English. The guffaws of presiding Judge James A. Redden were not recorded in the official court documents, but his swift denial of these motions left the defense in shreds. Pham will be sentenced on July 27. The FBI continues to hunt for alleged co-conspirator Tien Quyet Luong. MYKLE HANSEN
In January, Jennifer Diane Wilson, age 29, began work in the parking citation section of the Multnomah Circuit Court. Two months later, according to an indictment handed down this past week, she was stealing checks sent to the courthouse--checks intended for payment of parking violations.
For more than two months, Wilson allegedly took the stolen checks home to her apartment in SE Portland. There, authorities suspect her boyfriend, Erin Jacob Giger, age 28, made copies of the checks on his computer. According to the indictment, Giger tinkered with the name of the payee and changed the original dollar amount from a mere $15 or $25 to several thousand. Authorities still have yet to disclose exactly how much money they believe the couple raked in.
Following the indictment, court officials promised to improve oversight of employees throughout the courthouse. Meanwhile, Wilson was placed on paid administrative lead until the investigation concludes. PHIL BUSSE