Among the names that have found their way into the "bad checks" file at the D.C. Department of Transportation are those of a city government employe, lawyers, corporation heads, a New York congressman and two local journalists.
Many of the check writers interviewed yesterday said they did not know their checks had bounced. "Why hasn't [the transportation department] notified me?" asked Hermeyone Y. Brown of Southeast Washington, when asked about two checks she wrote -- one for $50, the other for $30 -- last January. Both checks bounced for insufficient funds.
"I was assuming all was well. If I have a debt, I'll pay it," Brown said.
Often the check writers would merely stop payment on their checks, or would write checks on a closed account.
"If my husband stopped payment on the check," he probably thought [the ticket] was not justified," said Kam Chui Buhler of Racine, Wis., whose husband canceled the payment on a $50 check to the Transportation Department last August. Buhler said her husband received the ticket while he and the family were visiting Washington on vacation.
Washngton Post staff writer Scott Armstrong, coauthor of the book, "The Brethren," on the Supreme Court, wrote three checks of $10 each on a closed account, according to the stamp mark on the returned checks.
But Armstrong said yesterday, "That account is not closed. That account has never been closed. It's clearly the bank's error." Armstrong's account is with the Riggs National Bank.
"Customarily it takes three to six months for a check to the city to clear the bank. That's why I didn't find it unusual that I hadn't gotten these checks back yet," Armstrong added.
The checks, totaling $30, were sent to Armstrong's bank on Jan. 9-10. Armstrong said yesterday that at that time, from Jan. 7 to 13, the balance in his checking account was $37,756.45.
Nina Solarz, wife of Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), said she was responsible for the $5 check in the congressman's name that bounced.
"Sometimes my account doesn't balance and I just say, 'The hell with it,'" she said. She added that she had gotten a statement from the bank about the insufficient funds, but "they didn't say what check it was. So I just thought, $5 one way or the other . . . the District never got in touch with me."
Herbert B. Barksdale, whose city government job is to locate delinquent fathers of the Department of Human Services, said, "I am aware the checks bounced . . . I was waiting for [the city] to notify me to come down and make restitution." Barksdale, who wroter four checks of $5 each that bounced last October, November and December, said he still has not been notified.
Barksdale said he thinks it is unfair that the city does not provide parking for its investigators, like himself, who are required to use their own cars on their job.
"We accumulate about three or four tickets a month. . . . Consequently, we have to take money out of our salaries to pay for tickets we accumulate in the process of doing our job," he said.
Douglas Dowling, a public accountant from Falls Church, said he stopped payment on a $50 check "out of sheer anger" against the D.C. government for towing his car from a residential street because he had parked it too close to a corner.
"At first I thought I'd stop payment on the check and turn around and pay what I thought was a reasonable towing fee. But then I thought, what the heck, they don't even deserve that," Dowling explained in a telephone interview.
Dowling said he has always expected to hear from the D.C. government "sooner or later." He wrote the check on Jan. 7 and hasn't heard anything from the city yet.
City officials apparently have tried to notify very few area residents about their bad checks. Brenda Ford of Southeast Washington, who bounced $399 worth of checks since last November, said the District sent her a letter about a month ago, telling her she must pay up.
"I thought I would have [time] to get the money together," she said. "Why aren't they collecting from other people too?"
But Thierry J. Sagnier, a former Post news aide and free-lance writer, said, "I know I was never notified by my bank or by the city . . . I've had a $20 discrepancy in my account for a year and a half." According to the check, Sagnier's $20 check to the city last year bounced, though he maintains he never goes below $100 in his checking account.
William Stout, a waiter at Clyde's restaurant in Georgetown, said he wrote a $53 check to the D.C. Treasurer after his car was towed away last January, but then realized that his bank account in Chestertown, Md., would be closed out before the check cleared. Stout said that within a week he called the D.C. government and explained the situation.
An employe "took my name and telephone number and said they would be in touch when the check came back," Stout said yesterday. Stout said, however, that he never heard from the city government and has not paid the $53.
"We made it good, whatever it was I'm sure," said Marvin Himelfarb, about a $25 check that bounced. Himelfarb, whose advertising firm worked on Mayor Marion Barry's 1978 campaign, said he could not recall the check.
"I took care of it," said Lisa Himelfarb, who signed the check and said she thought she received a notice from the bank -- not the city government -- that the check had not cleared for payment.
"I don't remember how I took care of it," she said.
Harold Anthony Straker, the director of the District of Columbia Survival Project, signed a $135 check last November that bounced. Yesterday, Straker said his organization "never got a notice [that the] check bounced.
"The D.C. government (doesn't) notify you of very much of anything . . ." Straker said in a telephone interview.
From April 1979 to last March, the Transportation Department received $1,705 in checks that bounced from Lenward C. Hood of Hood's General Contracting & Consultant Services in Washington.
"It's a matter that it's clear that I will have to resolve with the D.C. government," Hood said in an interview.
"I'm not sure what the facts are," Hood said when asked if he was aware that a total of eight of his checks had been returned -- unpaid -- to the city government. Hood said he was aware that one check had been returned.
One individual's check, stamped "account closed," was written out for "Twenty-five excruciatingly painful" dollars. In the lower left corner was a notation that said the $25 was owed for "obeying [Virginia] laws instead of D.C. [and] getting screwed."
Another person, scribbling out a $100 check, wrote "Nothing!!" in the check's memo space.
Most of the checks were from area residents who had their addresses and telephone numbers listed on the checks. A few checks came from out of state and as far away as London and Berlin.
Among the firms listed in the bad check file are Creative Learning Systems ($80); Baha Enterprises trading as Tropical Oasis ($140); Atlantic Limousine ($60); Deposition Reporting Service -- Court and Congressional Reporters ($610); the USDA Barber Shop ($15); Uniphoto Inc. ($285), and the Speedy Rubber Stamp Service ($10). All these firms are located in Washington.
The law firm of Misegades Douglas & Levy in Washington and Michael Stuart Lieber, a Washington lawyer, also had checks in the bad check file.
William L. Tucker, the president of Uniphoto Inc., said yesterday that he stopped payment on a $285 company check written in February to the D.C. treasurer because it involved tickets and booting of a private car owned by one of his employes.
Tucker said the employe used the company check because the city would not accept a personal check.
Later, Tucker said he stopped payment on the $285 check "because it was not for a company car." He said he assumed the employe then paid the fine. The employe could not be reached for comment yesterday.
One city clerk said she believes many area residents send in bad checks or stop payments on their checks once they have received their towed car back, or had a boot removed from their car, since they know the city will do little to recover the money.