Man face Miss. trial on multistate fraud charges

Published 1:47 pm Thursday, December 31, 2009

The way court records tell it, Ronnie Lee Owen was a fugitive who crossed the country using fake drivers licenses and phony checks to buy thousands of dollars in goods, including cars, in nearly a dozen states.

His luck apparently ran out in south Mississippi when Biloxi Police Officer Douglass DeGeorge pulled him over in March and became suspicious about his nervous demeanor and shaking hands, according to federal court records.

The officer ran Owen’s license and found he was wanted in at least eight states on fraud or similar charges, according to an affidavit filed by Secret Service Agent Martha Jahnke.

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The car Owen was driving, a red 2000 Volkswagen Jetta with a paper license plate from Delaware, was purchased with a fake check in Idaho under the alias Ronald Odum, court records said.

Police allegedly found two fake Tennessee drivers licenses and another from Indiana in Owen’s wallet and fake checks, a computer, a printer and blank check paper in the car.

The checks had real bank routing numbers on them, allegedly obtained from a Web site that lists those numbers, court records said.

A federal judge set a Jan. 13 trial date for Owen in U.S. District Court in Gulfport after months of legal wrangling, in which Owen tried to have evidence thrown out, including an alleged confession. Owen also sought a psychiatric evaluation, though the judge found no competency problems.

Now Owen, who is in his early 40s, wants to get rid of his lawyer and represent himself. U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden on Tuesday set a hearing on that request for Jan. 6.

Owen’s attorney, public defender John Weber III, did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press.

Owen allegedly passed fake checks in California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington, court records said. Warrants have been issued for his arrest in eight of those states, although court records did not identify the states.

Owen admitted using a computer to make the checks and said that he wrote them to buy products, mainly at Walmart stores, then returned the items for cash the next day, Jahnke’s affidavit said.

Owen is also wanted in Washington, where he was arrested in 2007, after allegedly being found in possession of another car purchased with a stolen check and 12 counterfeit Kentucky driver’s licenses.

“None of the licenses had the same license number, and had different dates of birth,” court records said. “Further investigation, including a search of the defendant’s computer showed that over 650 checks were prepared on the computer, some of which were written to car dealerships.”

U.S. Attorney Donald R. Burkhalter said Wednesday that bar rules generally prohibit prosecutors from commenting on pending cases.