Unauthorized Withdrawals Leave Man $19,000 Short

February 15, 1991|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

Gaylor A. Watts Jr. didn't know someone had stolen $19,000 from his savings account until his brother visited his Linthicum home and looked at a bank statement.

That was back in July 1990. Since then, family members have been trying to sort out the details and get the money returned to Watts, who is mentally retarded and may not even understand that a substantial portion of his life's savings are missing.

After getting no satisfaction from Maryland National Bank, Watts'brother, Earl Summerfield Watts, contacted police who have just started their investigation.

"Nobody wanted to give me any help with this deal," Earl Watts said. "The poor guy put it in the bank in good faith and the bank let someone come in and take it out. It's a bizarre situation. It's a damn shame."

Earl Watts said his 61-year-old brother, who earns money mowing lawns in the summer, had about $25,000in his account. He lives off $370 a month in Social Security benefits.

Watts told police his brother "knew nothing of the loss" as he "never takes money from the account" because he doesn't know how.

Earl Watts, who is his brother's legal guardian, told police he went to the bank and found five unauthorized withdrawals made during 1990,one each month starting in March. The first was for $7,000.

"Mr. Watts asked who made the withdrawals and the bank had no answers," the police report says. "All the bank could advise was that as long as the person making the withdraw had a signature card for the account, a withdraw could be made."

The report says the Watts have been banking at the Linthicum branch for years and were known to the tellers.The teller who handled the first $7,000 withdrawal told Earl Watts that "she knew the person making the withdrawal wasn't Mr. Watts or his brother, but the person had the proper signature card so she made the transactions," the police report says.

Police say that on laterdates, no identification was used for the withdrawals, which were all made at a drive-up window.

"Why should the teller give the moneyto (someone else)?" Earl Watts said. "That was pretty stupid right there. Something is not right in that bank. They should have called me, especially since they knew the person withdrawing the money wasn't (my brother)."

A fraud investigator for Maryland National said theteller was mistaken when she told police she was positive neither ofthe Watts brothers was in the car in March when the $7,000 was withdrawn.

"If she had to testify to that in court, she would have to change that because she is unaware or cannot recall at this point" who was in the car when the transaction was made, Stephen Lesniewki said yesterday.

Lesniewki said there are no cameras at drive-up windows. He also said that whoever made the transactions had to know the account number. With that information, the person had to fill out a withdrawal slip and sign it.

That signature is then compared to the signature card on file with the bank. "To the best of my knowledge, Iwould say those signatures were comparable," said Lesniewki.

But he said the only way Gaylor Watts may be able to get his money back is by suing the bank or the person who took the money. "I would say that 90 percent of the time legal counsel helps a customer in large dollar cases where there is a fine line between our defense and their complaint.

"I'm not saying it always ends up that we have to pay thecustomer. It all depends on the circumstances. Problems arise, usually in family situations, especially where two signatures are required. One family member is able to forge the other person's name. That starts the ball rolling. It only takes one little family dispute to cause one person to take the money out and then they try to get the bankinto it."

But Lesniewki said he does not have specifics on the Watts case, since he has only just begun to review the file. He said situations like this are not uncommon, but usually don't involve this much money.

Police spokesman V. Richard Molloy said if police find out that somebody fraudulently signed Watts' name, the bank may be responsible for the loss. But if police find that somebody forced Wattsto sign the withdrawal slip "we have got to find the guy who did this" and Gaylor Watts will have to go to court to get his money back.

The only description police have of a possible suspect is a white male with black bushy hair and sideburns. Police and family members say they have no idea how the suspect got Gaylor Watts' bank account number.

The county police Criminal Investigations Division and the State's Attorney office are investigating the case.

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