The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Magazine sales firm owner faces fraud charges in Stafford
BY KEITH EPPS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
A judge Friday set a $250,000 bond for the head of a Georgia-based magazine sales operation accused of cheating at least 60 people in Stafford out of money.
James Edward Clair, 42, of Buford, Ga., is charged in Stafford with 148 offenses, including multiple counts of obtaining money by false pretenses.
During a three-hour bond hearing Friday in Stafford Circuit Court, prosecutors Kristin Bird and Jim Peterson asked Judge Sarah Deneke to have Clair held without bond.
They argued that Clair’s business is continuing to operate fraudulently and that Clair has been encouraging others wanted in Stafford for their roles in the operation to hide from authorities.
Local attorney Mark Gardner and Georgia lawyer Brian Steele said Clair poses no danger to any community and is not a flight risk.
Steele said Clair has known about the investigation against him for months and still showed up in Stafford on Friday as requested.
“He is not the leader of the people who came to Stafford to rip off residents,” Steele said.
According to the evidence, a group of young people were in the area earlier this year selling magazine subscriptions, supposedly to benefit troops overseas or local sports teams.
Detective Christine Hammond testified that she began an investigation in March after getting complaints from multiple residents.
Hammond said she learned that the solicitors were often lying to residents about their own identities and about what the money was being raised for.
Many customers either didn’t get what they paid for or got nothing at all.
Hammond’s investigation led to a central clearinghouse in Georgia headed by Clair. She said Clair has sent solicitors all over the country, including Washington state, Oregon, Kansas, Florida and North Carolina.
The Stafford group stayed at the Days Inn on U.S. 17 in a block of rooms that police say were paid for by Clair.
Hammond’s widespread investigation, which included a trip to Georgia to serve a search warrant, resulted in the arrests of about 15 people on charges in Stafford.
Two have already been convicted of felony offenses, and some are cooperating with authorities in the case against Clair.
A six-day trial in Stafford has been tentatively set to start Feb. 19.
Keith Epps: 540/374-5404