More jail time ordered in bad checks case
Restitution was not made, district attorney says
LOCK HAVEN — Beth A. Berfield, who had just begun her 90-day jail sentence on Saturday for writing her 11th bad check, was back in court this week after officials learned that she had never paid full restitution for a $788 check, as she had testified previously.
Court officials learned of Berfield’s deception last week, several days before Berfield was to report to jail at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13.
Berfield was made aware of the Commonwealth’s motion to modify her sentence at this past Monday’s court date by her attorney Patrick Johnson.
And last Thursday, two days before she was to report to jail, Berfield drove to Service Garage in Renovo and paid the restitution with three money orders, according to Clinton County District Attorney Dave Strouse.
While there, she had copies of two money order stubs, which she said were from April and May and insisted that she had paid the bill with those money orders, said Strouse.
However, Regina Nestlerode, who works in the office at Service Garage, testified Monday that the bill was never paid, that she had never seen those money orders before and no payments were ever received.
Nestlerode testified that Berfield’s original check for a March 17, 2017 fuel delivery was made on a closed account.
“I called her and told her the checking account was closed and the check was not good. She told me she had just gotten out of the hospital after a heart attack and her husband would bring the money up on Friday. He never did. I sent her a certified letter on March 28 and gave her until April 7 to pay the account. She signed for the certified letter. We never received any payments,” Nestlerode testified.
Berfield then claimed that she must have sent the two previous money orders to the wrong address. She said she sent them to 1135 Renovo Road, which is a gas station that Service Garage operates, instead of the business office 118350 Renovo Road.
“I sent them to 1135 Renovo Road. There are trucks up there. I called up to that garage to mail them there,” Berfied testified.
Nestlerode said it wouldn’t have mattered which address she used, that mail is often sent to both locations, and it would have gotten to the proper place to record the payment. She said she had never met Berfield until last Thursday, when she came to the office with three money orders for $500, $200 and $100 and asked for a letter verifying payment. When she gave Berfield the letter with numbers of the three money orders she had just received, Berfield told her they were the wrong numbers.
Berfield testified that she wanted the numbers on the letter from a copy of two other money order stubs used on the letter … that she was sending the letter to Money Gram to try and get her money back from those money orders because Service Garage never received them. Berfield said she showed copies of those stubs from her phone to another office worker.
Nestlerode said she never saw the previous money order numbers or the copies that Berfield said she had on her phone.
Copies of those two stubs, dated April and May for $500 and $300, were entered into evidence.
“Somebody wrote Service Garage over the top of the date and amount. Where’s the original copy?” Judge Michael Salisbury asked as he looked closely at the copies.
“I don’t have them. That’s what I was provided,” Berfield’s attorney replied.
Berfield spoke up, “The court took the original to make photo copies and they never gave them back.”
Berfield also claimed that the dates on the money orders were the same as the dates in her account when she withdrew the money.
However, Judge Salisbury reminded her that the dates she said she withdrew money to purchase the money orders did not coincide
“Well, I must have pulled the wrong ones out,” she replied.
Strouse said the Commonwealth has attempted to trace the two money orders and has been advised that duplicates can be done for a fee of $25 if the numbers are provided to Money Gram. He said there was not enough time to pursue that avenue.
Berfield claimed that she never received any correspondence from Service Garage, and that she thought the bill was paid with the two money orders.
And then, Berfield offered another story to the court: She said she was in the process of moving from 529 Frederick St. to 361 Susquehanna Ave. from the last week of April until May and the mail was all mixed up.
“We were getting lots of stuff at our old address. I never received anything from them. If I had, I would have taken care of it. I never got a bill from Service Garage, so I thought it was taken care of it,” Berfield offered.
She said she was getting mail at both addresses for about a month, until after she was done moving had gone to the post office to fill out paperwork to have mail forwarded to the new address.
“Even then we had problems forwarding our mail. The former resident was getting our stuff and I was getting hers,” she claimed.
In Berfield’s defense, her attorney argued, “She sent the payment to the wrong address and thought the bill was paid. There was no way for her to know … no cancelled check. She showed me she received money orders in April and May and told me she was trying to get reimbursement for those money orders. My client advised me this bill was paid. I don’t believe there was any ill intent. Who got the money from these money orders then?” Johnson asked.
In his closing remarks, Strouse said, “Clearly restitution was not made. There is no evidence that she mailed any money. She totally misled the court. The dates she alleged don’t match the two stubs for the two money orders. I don’t know if she purchased them … sent them to anyone … they’re just two stubs with Service Garage hand-written on them.
“The testimony of this defendant is wholly incredible and doesn’t make rational sense. One of two addresses … it’s highly incredible that she sent $800 with an incorrect address on the envelope,” Strouse said.
Through it all, Judge Salisbury listened intently.
And then he spoke.
“On Jan. 5, testimony was that restitution had been paid in full. The pre-sentence investigation did not include any type of payment or restitution.
“On Jan. 11, you paid the restitution with three money orders.
“Regina Nestlerode provides a receipt when payment is made. There were no receipts.
“The defendant appeared at the business address on Jan. 11 and requested a letter. She provided copies of two money grams. Dates of April 20 for $200 and May 1 for $600 appear on the stubs. Someone wrote Service Garage on them … I don’t know who wrote it. The defendant’s dates do not match the dates of withdrawals from her account.
“The defendant was fully aware that restitution had not been made. She stood idly by while council made remarks that payment of restitution had been made and we relied on that in the presentence order. The defendant’s testimony today about two money orders to Service Garage are incredible. And then the excuse she made about not receiving mail … it makes absolutely no sense at all,” the judge continued.
“The defendant has a prior history of crimes and dishonesty. At some point in your life you will have to learn to get honest,” the judge told Berfield as she stood before him in prison attire, her face reddened but emotionless.
With that, he modified the previous sentencing order dated Jan. 5, 2018, which gave Berfield 30 days in the county prison and 60 days of house arrest.
The new sentence is for 60 days in the county prison and 30 days of house arrest. Further, he doubled her fine from $500 to $1,000 and ordered restitution to Service Garage of $788.
“You now have been again sentenced,” the judge said as he left the bench.