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Sidebar: January

Graphic used for "The Sidebar" articles from the 30th Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate.(U.S. Air Force graphic/Caroline Lander)

Graphic used for "The Sidebar" articles from the 30th Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate.(U.S. Air Force graphic/Caroline Lander)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Note: The Sidebar is produced by the 30th Space Wing Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. It provides a monthly update on disciplinary issues on Vandenberg AFB and their consequences.

Bad Check, Big Problems

In this era of economic crisis and financial uncertainty, the last thing you want to do to your career is incur a federal conviction. A federal conviction not only costs a person his or her Air Fore career, it can also make it difficult to find a job after the military.

With the increased financial stress our Airmen face, it might seem understandable to write a bad check here and there, but Airmen need to know this is not the answer. There are several consequences of writing a bad check, including administrative actions, non-judicial punishment (Article 15) and trial by court-martial.

I was recently assigned to a bad check case in which a military member was "check kiting." Check kiting takes place when a check is drawn against uncollected or insufficient funds, usually for redepositing. The idea is to create a false balance in the account by taking advantage of the time lapse required for collection. As an example, the person might write a check from Bank A for $300 and deposit into an account in Bank B that same day. The person then spends the $300 from the account in Bank B the next day, before Bank B learns that the check from Bank A has bounced.

A judge advocate and I thoroughly reviewed the member's bank statements and financial records. Slowly but surely, the evidence painted a chronological picture of months of deliberate financial misconduct. This member was deliberately kiting checks and spending thousands of dollars she did not have. It became clear that a court-martial was required to address the member's crimes.

As I reviewed the evidence and the series of events, one thing stuck in my mind. This military member made a conscious decision to lie. Every deposit she made and every check she passed showed a lack of integrity. This individual had several opportunities to stop and say "enough," but she did not. She continued to lie until she got caught, and she was prosecuted and found guilty for her actions.

During the court-martial sentencing proceedings, I listened to the member's statement. This individual gave several excuses to the court members why she did what she did, but it was clear that she invested most of her time into excuses and less time in taking responsibility.

Accidentally writing a bad check is an offense under the UCMJ and is usually dealt with through administrative action. These actions are bad enough but check fraud is another matter entirely. It is no accident, requiring criminal planning, execution and organization with precision. Financial institutions have divisions solely for identifying this crime. Those who commit check fraud will be caught. Check fraud carries with it a maximum punishment of five years confinement, total forfeitures and a dishonorable discharge.

Military members have many programs available to them provided by the Airman and Family Readiness Center including Falcon loans, food pantry and financial management classes. Everyone - including the military member I helped prosecute - has the tools available to avoid a federal conviction and discharge from the Air Force.

The current job market is hard enough. Whether you leave the Air Force after your first enlistment or you stay until retirement, why restart your life in the civilian sector with anything less than an honorable discharge? Manage your finances responsibly, use the tools available to you, and learn the lessons I did from one military member who chose the wrong path.