Town board clears check chasing

Police chief, town manager object to private practice

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— The Hayden Town Board has given police officer Gordon Booco permission to continue collecting bad checks for local businesses, despite objections from the police chief and the town manager.

However, the board stressed to Booco that he must complete the contracted work on his own time. The board also said that if a check-collection matter Booco is handling becomes a criminal case in the future, he is to reassign the case to another officer.

"I do not see any conflict," said Trustee Tim Frentress. "If merchants feel comfortable with him doing this, I don't see a conflict.

The board decided last Thursday to allow Booco to collect bad checks for local businesses, despite objections from Town Manager Rob Straebel and Police Chief Jody Lenahan.

"It is a gray area whether he should be a private contractor for a business," Lenahan said.

Straebel pointed out to the board that the police department can handle bad checks. In cases where a bad check has been reported to police, officers follow the necessary steps to try to get the money for the business, Lenahan said.

"We can do this in-house," Straebel added. "I'm concerned businesses in community are paying for a service that should be taken care of by the police department. It is something we are capable of doing."

Despite those arguments, the board decided to allow Booco to continue his work at the urging of two business owners: Bill Hayden, owner of the Hayden Mercantile, and Fawna Odom, owner of HiWay Bar.

Odom came armed with two folders.

"This is what I have been able to get back when I have went through the police department," Odom said opening a blank folder. "This is what I have gotten back when I have hired Gordon," she said holding a folder filled with paperwork.

"It does not take a rocket scientist. It is easier to go to Gordon. I am getting a return on my money that I have never seen before."

Hayden agreed.

"I understand the conflict the town may have with this," he said. "But this is a small community. People need to wear two or three hats. There are only so many people in town we can depend on."

Hayden said that hiring Booco to collect on a debt instead of reporting the bad check to police keeps customers coming back to his store.

"If a person writes a bad check, they sometimes stop shopping here," he said. "It is best for the town to keep people shopping here. We don't want to harass the people in town."

During the time Hayden has used Booco's services, he has been successful in recouping money and keeping customers shopping at the mercantile.

"It is tough love, but it has helped us retain customers," he said.

For about a year, Booco has been collecting bad checks on his own time and never in uniform. He started to do it after he got the necessary paperwork from the state attorney general's office.

"Chasing checks is not part of being a private investigator," Booco said. "I simply deliver a message to these people that their check did not clear the bank."

It is Booco's practice to never collect money from the people whose checks have bounced.

"I identify myself as a person working for a business," he said. "I am simply a contract employee."

Booco is working for seven businesses and when a case is closed, he collects $20 to $25 from the business for his work.

"I don't take any legal action," he said. "That is up to the businesses."

Booco stressed to the board that if a conflict in the future may arise, he is a cop first.

"I can go either way on this," he said. "I would be glad to keep working. But if it does become a problem, my main priority is to be a police officer."

Trustee Jim Haskins, who was initially concerned about Booco's work when he heard a complaint from a resident, urged all town employees to make the board aware of any private ventures they may have.

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