COLUMBIA — Columbia police on Thursday arrested a man they said is suspected of passing counterfeit checks at several local businesses.
Justin K. Darnel of Columbia was arrested at about 4 p.m. at Aardvarx, 17 N. Tenth St., on suspicion of seven counts of forgery, felony possession of a controlled substance, misdemeanor stealing and an outstanding felony warrant.
The suspect was in possession of cocaine when he was arrested, Columbia police Sgt. Ken Hammond said. He also had two bracelets from Aardvarx on his person, said Melissa Frier, the manager of Aardvarx. He did not try to use any of the counterfeit traveler’s checks at the store, she said.
The fake checks, which included Visa, American Express and moneygrams were part of a Nigerian scam in which someone overseas contacts victims and asks them to cash the counterfeit checks and mail the money back, Hammond said. When Darnel realized it was a scam, he used the checks himself instead of sending the money back, Hammond said.
An officer had been at Aardvarx earlier on Thursday warning employees of a man who had been using fake traveler’s checks around the District, Frier said. The officer gave a vague description of the suspect and warned Frier to look out for the fake checks, Frier said.
Hammond said the suspect has passed the fake checks at several Columbia businesses, including Buchroeder’s Jewelers, Top Ten Wines, and Westlake Hardware.
“We started getting reports in the first part of September,” Hammond said. The first offenses occurred at the end of August.
“Apparently, Mr. Darnel is well recognized in the downtown area,” Hammond said. His name came up in an investigation through a description of his appearance, and he became a suspect, Hammond said.
A resident called 911 after recognizing Darnel from fliers a bondsman posted in downtown Columbia after Darnel skipped out on a bail bond, Hammond said. The fliers had nothing to do with the checks, he said.
Darnel was awaiting trial on a charge of passing a bad check, second-degree property damage and felony theft in the 13th Circuit Court, according to Missouri Case.net. He pleaded guilty to passing a bad check in 2002, according to Case.net.