The Supreme Court on Monday gave a broad reading to a federal bank-fraud law, ruling it can be used to prosecute a scam artist who used altered checks to deceive cashiers at Target Corp. stores.
With the aid of his girlfriend, Kevin Loughlin posed as a Mormon missionary to approach Salt Lake City households, where he rifled through mailboxes to steal checks, court documents said. He forged or altered the checks, used them to buy merchandise and then would return purchases for a cash refund….
Justice Kagan was incredulous that the retail giant was unable to protect itself from Mr. Loughlin’s scam.
“Remarkably enough,” she wrote, Target cashiers accepted his altered checks “time after time.”
Back-office employees caught three of the fraudulent checks but submitted the rest for payment. Banks caught another two; the sixth was paid.
Luckily for Target, the high court—including the strict-constructionist-except-in-cases-of-small-time-deadbeat-scam-artists wing—is willing to consider it, and everyone and everything else that accepts checks, as banks for the purposes of fraud cases.
Mr. Loughlin appealed, arguing that while the checks may have been stolen, his intent was only to defraud Target, not the banks that issued them. Bank-fraud charges, he said, are supposed to be reserved for crimes targeting banks, while penny-ante scams aimed at third-parties should be local criminal matters.
The Supreme Court ruled squarely for prosecutors. “After all, a merchant accepts a check only to pass it along to a bank for payment; and upon receipt from the merchant, that check triggers disbursement of bank funds just as if presented by the fraudster himself,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court’s unanimous decision.