PROVO With 28 checks and a forged signature, one woman brought an Orem title company to its knees, leaving the owner out of business and more than $35,000 in debt.
Lorelei Harward, 36, a former escrow agent, is potentially nearing a resolution in her case of 32 felony charges in 4th District Court, including forgery and theft for stealing checks from what used to be Precision Title in Orem, writing them to herself and forging her boss' name.
"They just started missing checks when looking through their check register," said Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson. "They accused her of stealing the checks, then ... writing them out to herself without authorization."
Harward maintains she was only signing her own paychecks between June and October 2006, which she had been able to do throughout her employment as 49 percent owner of the title company, said her attorney, David Stewart.
"In the past, she had signed his name and was authorized to do so if he was gone," Stewart said. "When he switched to a new account ... she was unaware of this and went to pay herself on these accounts."
Stewart said Harward alleges the concerns over her actions only came after her partner began to be investigated.
However, Johnson said he's unaware of allegations against the other owner, which would have come out through several interviews between police and the owner.
But Harward didn't just leave her partner in the lurch. She also is charged with communication fraud and issuing a bad check for her attempt to buy a million-dollar house without actually having any money.
"I've (investigated) lots of forgeries, but I've never had a case like this," said fraud investigator Doug LeDoux with the state Insurance Fraud Division. "This was a pretty dumb thing."
Apparently Harward and an alleged co-conspirator, Mayra Lopez, approached a buyer about a million-dollar home in the Avenues in Salt Lake City.
To assure the seller of their interest, they promised $10,000 in earnest money the amount the seller demanded after the original contract failed to go through.
The women said they were still negotiating and to assuage fears and prove they had money, Harward faxed over a copy of their "proof."
"Lorelei creates the deposit slip and faxes these two things to the real estate office," LeDoux said. "Here's the check, here's the proof that I deposited it. This was enough ... for the Realtor. They never thought someone would forge this kind of stuff, so they thought, 'Oh good, we have it."'
But when the deadline for the contract passed again, and the real estate agent and buyer demanded the money, the gig was up.
"The market for a million-dollar home is a very narrow market," LeDoux said. "For (the seller) to take it off the market ... and lose all those potential sales, then not get the $10,000 that's where the real loss occurred to him."
Lopez hasn't yet been charged because county prosecutors can't find her. Harward is hoping to resolve her case, Stewart said, and she waived her preliminary hearing Monday afternoon. She pleaded not guilty and will be in court again Dec. 6."We're exploring a plea deal that would maximize the chances that (victims) get their money back," Johnson said. "And full restitution would be part of any deal that is arranged."