DEPUTY CLERK SPOTS FORGED DOCUMENT, PREVENTS DEFENDANT’S UNAUTHORIZED RELEASE FROM JAIL
The Fake Documents Included an Order Dropping Charges
WEST PALM BEACH, FL (March 13, 2011) – Clerk Sharon Bock says the keen eye and diligent efforts of a deputy clerk working at the Clerk & Comptroller’s Belle Glade office halted the possible unauthorized release from jail of a suspected felon.
On March 7, 2011, the Clerk received a fraudulent motion and court order containing instructions to drop burglary charges against 29-year-old Jean Lafalaise and release the suspect from custody. The clerk immediately noticed irregularities with the purported court documents and, upon investigating further, discovered that the documents were fake and the signatures on them had been forged.
Judge Nelson Bailey, the judge handling the Lafalaise case, had not signed an order dismissing charges against the defendant. His signature and that of State Attorney Michael McAuliffe were not legitimate.
“But for the exceptional alertness and diligence of (the) Deputy Clerk, what effectively amounts to an escape from jail on four felony cases very well would have succeeded,” said Judge Bailey in a letter to Clerk Bock. He said the deputy clerk’s actions thwarted a “fraudulent, but very clever and amazingly bold effort to get felony charges dismissed.”
Some other red flags that the Clerk & Comptroller employee spotted include irregularities surrounding how the documents arrived at the Clerk’s office—typically an order from a judge comes directly from the judge’s office, not through regular mail. Also, while there was postage on the envelope, there was no postmark.
The Clerk’s management staff and audit team within the Clerk’s Division of Inspector General immediately investigated the situation. In partnership with Judge Bailey, the forged documents were turned over to law enforcement and the United States Postal Service for further investigation and possible prosecution.
“The Clerk’s duty is to protect the integrity of the public’s records,” said Clerk Bock. “But, this duty extends further to protecting the integrity of the judicial system. In this case, the system and the public were protected.”
Information pertaining to who could have sent the forged documents or what charges they could face must await the completion of the investigation.
The Florida Constitution established the independent office of the Clerk & Comptroller as a public trustee, responsible for safeguarding public records and public funds. Clerk Sharon Bock is directly elected by and accountable to Palm Beach County residents. In addition to the roles of Clerk of the Circuit Court, County Recorder and Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners, the Clerk & Comptroller is the Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Auditor for Palm Beach County.
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