MORE WOMEN PAYING THE PRICE OVER BAD CHECKS Authorities and Experts Discuss Reasons Behind Gender Differences in Many Property Crimes

Article excerpt

Byline: Diana Marrero, Times-Union staff writer

Catherine Moseberth figured her father would forgive her if he found out she stole his checks.

What she didn't know was that the bank would not.

"I just got greedy with the money," said Moseberth, a 22-year-old with a childlike face and braids in her hair. "I knew it was stealing, but I thought he would forgive me."

Moseberth, serving a one-year sentence in the Clay County Jail, is among a growing number of women getting in trouble with the law over worthless checks. In fact, women tend to pass worthless checks at a significantly higher rate than men, mirroring a 30-year national trend that an increasing number of women are becoming involved in property crimes. Although women are much less likely than men to commit crimes, the gap is narrowing when it comes to larceny and embezzlement, according to FBI statistics.

Experts suggest the trend is being triggered by a variety of factors, including economics, a decade of welfare reform initiatives and a liberation movement that allowed women more access to finances. Property crimes also tend to be linked to economic need, according to experts. Add that idea to what sociologists call the "feminization of poverty" -- the fact that the bulk of the country's poor are women and children -- and that could help explain the trend, some say.

Authorities are also starting to see more and more counterfeit checks as home computers and technology make it easier for novices to print their own fraudulent checks.

Greed for the green

Moseberth has some time on her hands to think about what she did. She said she is sorry she tried to steal more than $3,000 worth of checks from her father. But mostly, she's sorry she's in jail.

"If I had known I was going to go to jail for it, I wouldn't have done it," she said. "People think they're not going to get caught. You're going to get caught."

Since she went to jail in January, she said, she's encountered other female inmates with similar stories. They have different reasons for cashing worthless checks, but it all comes down to one thing: Greed for the green.

"A lot of people get greedy," she said. "Or they are drug addicts trying to get a hit with the next dollar. That's all it is these days. It's about dollar bills. That's what everybody wants, to make a little money quick and easy, and that's what gets you in trouble."

That's what she said got her. Moseberth, who was living with her father, found some of his checks and figured she could forge his signature and make some easy money. She said she made two checks out to herself, each worth $600, and cashed them.

"I was like 'Ooh, I could do this again,' " she said.

By the time she was caught, she had cashed checks for about $3,000. Some of the money went toward a shopping spree, some went for meals and some went for gasoline.

"I didn't expect to take that many checks," she said. "It was just the money."

She thought she would eventually pay him back, but never did. By the time authorities caught up with her, she had lost her job and couldn't return the money.

Moseberth's case is far from unusual. Last year, the Clay County Sheriff's Office arrested 277 women on charges of cashing worthless checks, compared with 226 men for the same crime.

The number becomes even more significant when total arrests are considered. Although only 5 percent of men arrested in Clay that year were arrested on worthless check charges, 20 percent of arrested women were charged with the crime.

Arrest numbers are just a hint of the problem when compared with the number of worthless check cases handled by state attorney's offices that never make it that far. The problem is so big in Jacksonville there's a whole separate division dedicated to worthless checks. A total of 71,950 active worthless check cases were handled in Jacksonville last year, with women responsible for a majority of those cases. …