Criminal case stems from missing money at St. Joe Co. Clerk's office

A recent audit reveals that money is missing from the St. Joseph County Clerk’s office, and the search for answers has resulted in criminal charges.

“It bothers me that people do these kinds of things,” said St. Joseph County Clerk Terri Rethlake. “To be bold enough to steal from a branch of the court.”

A closer look at the books turned up some suspicious checks that were cashed on the clerk’s account in 2011. One check contained the county clerk’s bank account number but listed the payer as a fictitious business: The Great Lakes Paper Company.

In September of 2011, bogus checks were written to the likes of TJ Maxx and Walgreens, and two were made out to Fahren Sandifer.

Sandifer was recently charged with felony theft. The case attempts to tie her to about $1,500 of some $4,700 worth of missing money.

Sandifer is a resident of Detroit who has spent time at the St. Joseph County and Elkhart County jails in the past on theft and forgery charges.

In Michigan, Sandifer was convicted of forgery and sentenced to six years’ probation in July of 2012.

While common sense says you don’t give your bank account information to a criminal, that’s a common occurrence when you’re in the jail-bail-business.

“If they had to post a bond with us on a criminal case and the bond is released by the judge or applied toward fines and costs then we give them a refund if there is an excess amount of money,” said Rethlake, who adds that state law requires that such refunds be paid by check, not cash.

That’s one possible way the county clerk’s bank account information became compromised. "It’s very bold, very bold,” said Rethlake.

Court documents allege that Sandifer told police she received the checks from another individual who had printed them on a computer and that she received a portion of the money gained from cashing the checks.

“Since this has happened, our bank’s fraud division is also put watch on our account, so they’re watching the checks that go through also,” said Rethlake, who is also looking into the possibility of switching to fillable debit cards.