July 15, 2009 in City

Man gets 6 months for kiting checks

He conned girlfriend, others to support gambling habit
Meghann M. Cuniff meghannc@spokesman.com, (509) 459-5534
 

A man who convinced his girl-friend he was a covert military agent and swindled thousands of dollars to fund his gambling habit will spend the next six months in jail.

The woman felt so bad her bank lost money that she repaid it.

Her ex-boyfriend, Thai M. Cao, is required to pay her back after he’s released from jail.

Cao, 24, also faces a theft charge in Colorado, where he worked in a military finance department before becoming addicted to gambling and ruining his career, he told Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno on Tuesday.

Cao was convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from four people, including the woman, in a complicated check kiting scheme that basically involved him finding people to cash checks for him that later bounced.

“All my thinking was ‘Maybe I could win this time,’ ” Cao said. “I never meant to steal from them. My intent was just to borrow.”

Cao pleaded guilty Tuesday to four counts of first-degree theft, four counts of forgery, one count of third-degree theft and one count of unlawful possession of a payment instrument.

In a sentencing deal worked out by public defender Kevin Griffin and Deputy Prosecutor David Stevens and approved by Moreno, Cao qualified for the first-time offender program and will serve six months in jail and 24 months on probation, pay restitution and attend counseling for gambling addiction.

His charges could have earned him 43 months in prison.

“I see a lot of people, some of which I like more than others,” Griffin said. “I think Mr. Cao is a very decent young man with a very serious gambling problem.”

The four victims described Cao as extremely intelligent and said they have forgiven him, Stevens said.

Along with Cao’s ex-girlfriend, whom he met in an Internet chat room and said he had planned to marry, other victims repaid their banks for the missing funds, Griffin said.

“These folks must have a very large heart, because I’m not so sure that I could be so forgiving,” Moreno said.

Cao has been in the Spokane County Jail for two months after spending time in military custody in Oklahoma and in a Colorado jail in August, Griffin said.

Cao used his military experience when conning people into the scheme, which began when he told his girlfriend he needed money because someone was stealing money at work in Colorado and he was being blamed for it, according to a statement of facts filed in October 2008.

“A short time later he came back to Spokane, originally saying he was on vacation and then admitted he was AWOL from the military but that was only a cover-up for his real purpose as a CID (Army Criminal Investigation Command) agent on secret mission in Spokane,” the statement reads.

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