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Arrest Made of Alleged ‘Doctor’ in Check Scam

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Canadian man hunted by law enforcement authorities from several states was in the San Diego County Jail Tuesday on charges of posing as a wealthy doctor to pass as much as $1.6 million in bad checks for jewelry, watches and coins.

John Compton Harvey, 58, is suspected of running a multi-state scam for the past several years in which he posed as a distinguished physician and altered cashier’s checks to buy from $800,000 to $1.6 million worth of goods, said Bill Robinson, a spokesman for the San Diego police.

“He was a big tipper and led an affluent lifestyle, making sure people thought he had a lot of money,” Robinson said. “He was well-dressed, gray hair, blue eyes and distinguished looks. He fooled a lot of people.”

Harvey was being held in County Jail on $15-million bail. He was charged with two counts of burglary and three counts each of forgery and grand theft property.

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Law enforcement authorities from 10 counties in California, Arizona and Utah have arrest warrants pending against Harvey for a variety of fraud, forgery, embezzlement and stolen property charges, and he is wanted for questioning in Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Nevada, Robinson said.

Police are hoping that publicity about Harvey’s arrest will prompt additional victims to come forward, Robinson said.

According to police, Harvey would arrive in a city and obtain doctors’ business cards and assume their identities, including establishing bogus answering services.

He then answered classified advertisements from private parties selling expensive jewelry, watches and coins, Robinson said.

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After meeting with the sellers and persuading them to accept cashier’s checks, Harvey would buy $10 cashier’s checks, erase the amount, substitute a higher figure, and purchase the merchandise with the false check, Robinson said.

He would make up to six purchases over three to five days in a given city before moving on, Robinson said.

San Diego police became involved nine months ago when Detective Dennis Sadler was assigned the case after Harvey apparently purchased merchandise with bad cashier’s checks here, Robinson said.

“He (Sadler) followed Harvey’s track from city to city” and finally tracked him to a Palm Springs restaurant where he was arrested at 11:45 p.m. Saturday by U.S. marshals and police from Long Beach and Palm Springs, Robinson said.

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Harvey’s activities were attracting a growing amount of attention--the TV program “Unsolved Mysteries” planned to broadcast a segment on the scam--as the number of his victims increased, Robinson said.

Additional arrests are expected, but police would not release additional information.


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