Couple nabbed after passing stolen checks

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF

   An Ohio man and woman were apprehended Tuesday afternoon by Elizabethton Police Department officers after one of the suspects attempted to pass a check stolen from a local electrical contracting firm at the Pinecrest branch of Carter County Bank.
   According to Capt. Mike Peters of the Criminal Investigation Division, Donna Marie Wells, 35, of Columbus, Ohio, tried to cash a check stolen from Advanced Electric and made out for more than $1,200.
   "The bank was already on alert because they had had several passed at various locations already. They stalled and called 911 and eventually the girl got nervous and left.
   "The branch manager was able to get a tag number and it was an Indiana plate. She got a description of the vehicle and the plate came back as stolen. What we can piece together is the girl left the parking lot headed toward Johnson City. Somewhere in the vicinity of Legion Street, at a service station over there, she picked up Gary Eugene Wade, 51, of Hilliard, Ohio," Peters said.
   During this time, the license plate on the vehicle was switched.
   "The tag that was on the back of the vehicle was a magnetic clip-on tag. They had it rigged to where it would just clip right over another tag. He pulls that tag off, throws it in the trunk, and heads back toward Elizabethton," Peters said. "Now we've got the same description of the car but with Ohio plates that were legal."
   Ptl. Mike Sproviero spotted the vehicle as it was headed toward Elizabethton on Highway 67. Sproviero, along with Capt. Peters, Detective Greg Workman and Sgt. Charles Moreland stopped the car near the Milligan Highway intersection.
   "The girl was lying down in the back of the seat. She was positively identified by the bank people as being the girl that did it. We also found two more checks from Advanced in the vehicle that were already made out and ready to go, and we recovered the one from the bank," Peters said.
   Under questioning, Wells admitted cashing a check from Advanced for more than $1,200 on Jan. 10 at the Village Branch of Carter County Bank and another for $1,400 on Jan. 11 at the bank's main location.
   Wells was charged with three counts of forgery and two counts of theft over $500. Wade, who has a lengthy criminal history according to police, was charged with one count of forgery and two counts of theft based on possession of the stolen tag and possession of the stolen checks found in his car.
   "The girl was also in possession of stolen driver's licenses from Kentucky and one from Ohio and that was what she was using to get the checks cashed," Peters said.
   "We found out they've been cashing the checks here and then driving back to Knoxville on I-75," where they were staying at a motel.
   Pam Shipley, an employee of Advanced Electric, reported the checks missing Friday after being notified by Carter County Bank that they had cashed a check for $1,400 written on Advanced's account.
   While Carter County Sheriff's Department Deputy Dean Jones was taking a report of the incident, Advanced was notified that another check had been cashed at another branch near Elizabethton High School. Upon examining the company checkbook, Shipley found checks 23382-23498 missing.
   Wells and Wade were to be arraigned today in General Sessions Court. Wells was being held on $22,500 bond. Wade's bond was set at $2,500 cash.
   Capt. Peters said other suspects are believed involved and the investigation is ongoing. Carter County Sheriff's Department is investigating the theft.
   Edward Perkins, owner of Advanced Electric, praised Elizabethton Police Department for the "efficient and expedient way the police have handled the investigation."