Thomas said his office will mail a notification letter to the offender, offering a 10-day grace period to pay the check amount along with a $25 merchant fee and a $25 county attorney fee.
The letter includes a deposit slip with a tracking number that allows money to be automatically credited to the merchant if the offender pays. Money remains in a holding bank until the County Attorney's Office can make disbursements, which are scheduled twice a month.
Money has been collected on about 400 checks since the new system was implemented. Fees that are generated through cold check collection are maintained in a separate account from the office's operating expenses.
Thomas said the beauty of the program is that his office can retrieve details about the merchant, defendant or case at any time throughout the process. Technology is also in the works to allow merchants to get access to information about their cases from a personal computer.
"We are able to provide information based on the data we have to the merchant so that they can track the system," he said. "This is all being done by basically one full-time employee and an employee who works part-time."
The system will also issue an alert if the 10-day grace period has expired without payment. The County Attorney's Office will then issue a complaint and summons. Defendants can be charged with misdemeanor or felony theft by deception depending on the amount of the check.
Thomas said the courts have been sentencing offenders that plead guilty to jail time, but discharging the sentence if the defendant makes payments on the check.
"That seems to be a win-win situation for everybody because the merchant gets paid and the defendant has a period of time to get all their money together so they can satisfy the merchant in full," he said. "But we still have the punishment and the conviction that shows that this person plead guilty to the offense."
Thomas held a seminar earlier this month for merchants to learn about the system and future seminars are in the works, possibly on cold checks or other county attorney services.
"We still feel that there are a lot of merchants out there that don't understand that this service is being made available to them free of charge," Thomas said. "I encourage anyone who needs the services of our cold check program to come and see us and we'll be more than happy to help them recover the money that they have lost."
More information can be obtained about the Cold Check Collection Program by calling the County Attorney's Office at (859) 745-0220. Brochures are also available at the office.