Wal-Mart#039;s decision hurting DAs statewide

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 7, 2006

Wal-Mart's recent choice to utilize a national firm to collect on bad checks is going to have a detrimental effect on worthless check divisions throughout the state, according to District Attorney John Andrews.

But it's the Butler County office that Andrews is concerned about, and he doesn't mince words when describing what the retail corporation's decision means:

&#8220It's going to kick us in the teeth,” he said.

Andrews said money collected through the worthless check division helps fund operations in the district attorney's office.

&#8220It upsets you,” he said. &#8220It's their business and they think they can do better through this other firm. But I don't think they can provide better service than the district attorney's office. We're going to do what we can do.”

Wal-Mart is Andrews' biggest account and brought in an estimated $100,000 into the county last year through worthless check collection. Andrews' office received $94 of every $141 collected off bad checks while the additional money went into the county coffers.

Andrews said the loss of Wal-Mart financially handicaps his office even more than before.

&#8220We're in deep,” he said. &#8220I can't hire enough people right now to run the office how it needs to be run. Quite frankly, I may have to get more money from the state government.”

Andrews said district attorneys in Alabama received $11 million from the state in 2004. Conversely, he said, defense attorney were allotted $55 million to act as public defenders.

&#8220That's about four times what we get,” he said.

In November, Wal-Mart decided to go with TeleCheck Services Inc., a check verification service that allows businesses to present checks electronically. Becky Garrett, Wal-Mart's director of financial operations, told the Associated Press that TeleCheck gives stores the &#8220ability to differentiate high and low-risk paper check transactions at the point of sale and process them accordingly.”

But Andrews feels like there's still margin for error. Plus, he said, there's no telling how much TeleCheck is costing the retail conglomerate.

&#8220Our services cost them nothing,” said Andrews.

The AP reported that losses to counties throughout Alabama could reach $3.2 million.

Company spokesman Marty Heires told the AP,&#8220 all but about 500 of its stores were already using an electronic system.”

Heires went on to say that Wal-Mart could revisit its decision at a later date.