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Family Sues Bank Over Check Fraud : Crime: The suit alleges that Glendale Federal was negligent in cashing more than $115,000 in forged checks drawn on the account of a man missing since 1989.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The family of a missing Glendale accountant whose motor home and life savings were stolen by traveling companions, has filed suit against Glendale Federal Bank, saying it was negligent in accepting more than $115,000 in forged checks written on his account.

The suit was filed Aug. 26 in Glendale Superior Court by the brother and sister-in-law of Gordon T. Johnson. Johnson, 62, was last seen at an Oregon campground on Oct. 15, 1989, and is presumed to have been murdered.

From the date of Johnson’s disappearance through January, 1990, 12 checks totaling more than $115,000 were written on his account, and more than $5,000 was withdrawn through his automatic teller machine card. Last Oct. 26, two former Santa Monica teachers were convicted of stealing this money, along with Johnson’s $219,000 motor home and his four-wheel-drive Suzuki. The teachers are considered suspects in Johnson’s presumed death but have not been charged.

Attorney J. David Knobler, who represents Johnson’s family, said Glendale Federal should have examined the signatures more closely or taken other verification measures, particularly for one check for $100,000.

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“If that didn’t give them a red flag, I don’t know what would,” Knobler said. “Just to have a $100,000 check go through and no one bat an eyelash is unbelievable.”

The lawsuit alleges that Glendale Federal’s acceptance of the forged checks and automatic teller withdrawals was “contrary to the signature card agreement of the parties and the laws governing checks and checking accounts.”

It states that before filing suit, the family asked Glendale Federal to put $120,430 back in Johnson’s account. According to the suit, the bank refused.

Glendale Federal spokeswoman Judy Cunningham said bank officials have not reviewed the suit. She declined to comment on the court case or the bank’s check verification procedures.

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Johnson worked as an accountant for a Glendale Federal subsidiary until April, 1989, when he retired, sold his Glendale house and bought a 40-foot motor home and four-wheel-drive Suzuki to tour the country.

During his travels, authorities say, Johnson met teachers Stanley Alan Hershey, 47, and his wife, Jan Vicki Fine, 39. Last February, a federal judge in Las Vegas sentenced Hershey to 20 years in prison and Fine to five years after they were convicted of stealing Johnson’s funds and vehicles.

Lt. Larry Jarrett of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department said last week that a murder investigation focusing on Hershey and Fine remains open. Authorities believe that Johnson was killed by the two teachers, who then dumped his body in Lake Shasta in Northern California. But the body has not been found.

Meanwhile, Delford Johnson and his wife, Armond, of Minneapolis, obtained a conservatorship giving them control over Gordon Johnson’s finances. The proceeding was held in a court in Oregon because that was Johnson’s last known state of residence.

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In an interview, Armond Johnson said the family had hoped to get the money from Glendale Federal without going to court. “This was not how we hoped it would be handled,” she said. “This situation has been very traumatic.”

But, she added, “it is my husband’s obligation to see that these funds are conserved.”

Knobler, who was retained by an Oregon attorney to file the Glendale lawsuit on behalf of the conservatorship, said he had no information about Johnson’s will or possible heirs.

In general, Knobler said, a waiting period is required before a missing person can be declared legally dead. But he said he did not know the length of time specified under Oregon law.

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Eugene, Ore., attorney Lynn Shepard, who is representing the family with the conservatorship and who retained Knobler, did not return telephone calls.


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