July 16, 2005
Officials at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center are reviewing their inmate account policies after an inmate used a stolen credit card number to put money in his jail account.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case, which happened last month, but it concerned officials enough to prompt the policy review. “The last thing we want is inmates committing more crimes while they’re in the facility,” said Criminal Justice Center Commander Paula Presley. Colorado Springs police Officer Greg Potter investigated the credit card theft, which occurred in early June. According to Potter’s report, here’s what happened: A Colorado Springs couple called police last month to report an unauthorized $512.95 charge on their bank card. They said the card had never been out of their control. Potter discovered the charge came from Western Union and was deposited in an inmate’s account at the Criminal Justice Center. The couple told Potter they knew no one at the jail and had not authorized anyone to use their card. Potter discovered “inmate (John A.) Melendez had received a Western Union direct deposit from the victim in the amount of five hundred dollars.” Melendez, 40, was in jail on felony harassment, menacing and drug charges. He has since bonded out of the Criminal Justice Center. According to Potter’s report, Melendez authorized jail officials to issue two checks from his account totaling $350, one to his ex-wife and one to another woman. He also made withdrawals on his jail account for “purchases at the jail commissary.” Inmate accounts are set up when they arrive in jail, primarily to cover the $30 administrative fee each must pay to cover the cost of his or her stay. Family members or friends can deposit money into an inmate’s account. Inmates may also authorize that money be released to family members, Presley said. They can have any amount in the account, but are only allowed to spend $50 a week. Western Union officials did not return calls for comment. “One incident like this basically causes us to take a real close look at policies as to how we use companies like Western Union,” Presley said. In the wake of the case, CJC inmates are no longer allowed to use credit cards to secure Western Union money transfers, officials decided. Presley said these incidents are “not common,” but officials are taking no chances. The bank covered the fraudulent charge, and the couple changed the bank card number. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0110 or firstname.lastname@example.org