By Tim Eberly
Two Havre men were arrested last week on felony charges stemming from a shopping spree with a stolen checkbook, the Hill County Sheriff's Office said.
Ryan Kelly Schafer, 24, was arrested at 3:27 p.m. last Monday and charged with forgery common scheme. Joseph Daniel Feltz, 23, charged with forgery common scheme by accountability, was arrested with Schafer when deputies located the duo in Schafer's brother's vehicle while they drove along First Street. At the time of their arrest, they had the checkbook in their possesion, according to Hill County sheriff's deputy Steve Marden, and were wearing new clothing and boots purchased with the stolen checks.
"We were pretty lucky to locate them that fast," Marden said.
Schafer and Feltz, who had three outstanding arrest warrants, are being held in the Hill County Detention Center on $10,000 bond each. They face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine if convicted. No arraignment date has been set.
Using the checkbook they stole from a house party in Great Falls on Dec. 1, Marden said, Schafer and Feltz purchased items worth a total of $760.36 from several Havre businesses, including Kmart, Finest Boot Repair, Heirloom Jewelers and Office Equipment Company Inc. Between Dec. 1 and 3, Schafer and Feltz used 12 bad checks eight of which were successfully cashed, Marden said. Schafer forged all of them, Marden said.
Most Havre businesses do not require identification when a patron uses a check for a purchase. "They think they're going to insult their customers if they do that," Marden said.
The Sam Goody music store, a recent addition to the Holiday Village Shopping Center, follows a companywide policy of asking for identification. So when Schafer and Feltz attempted to purchase goods at the music shop early last Monday, they were asked to produce identification, Marden said.
Neither man could, claiming they had left proper identification at a nearby motel, Marden said. They said they would go to the motel, pick up their IDs, and return to claim their purchases, Marden said.
A half hour later, one of them called back, claiming his wallet was stolen from his motel room and giving the store manager, Dave Young, permission to rip up the check, said Marden.
Instead, Young called to verify the owner of the checks, which were from an account with the First Liberty Credit Union, located on Malmstrom Air Force Base. A man and a woman, both of Great Falls, were registered to the account and the checks had been reported stolen.
The manager had recognized Feltz from several weeks ago, when he was in the store ordering some compact discs. He could only remember Feltz's initials J.D. but was able to give Marden a description of both men, including Feltz's poor complexion. Marden had recently seen Feltz at Northern Montana Hospital, seeking treatment for a bad case of chicken pox.
After making photocopies of the check, Young passed them out to businesses in the mall, and faxed others to businesses in town.
"If the manager at Sam Goody hadn't taken the initiative to call the bank, they would have gotten away with it," Marden said.
Schafer has prior convictions in Hill County for felony theft, possession of dangerous drugs, burglary and endangering the welfare of children. Feltz's rap sheet includes convictions for burglary, possession of dangerous drugs and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Marden said Schafer had stolen the checks at a party in Great Falls that took place at the residence of the couple who owned the checks.
"She woke up the next morning and found her purse in the back yard and her checkbook was gone," Marden said.