There is a law enforcement office in the basement of the Montgomery County Circuit Courthouse that people involved in divorces and other legal proceedings often visit. For a $40 processing fee, they can get sheriff’s deputies to officially deliver — or “serve” — documents to another party in a case.
Seems like an odd place to run an alleged theft scheme. But for more than four years, according to court documents filed late last week, that is exactly what receptionist Joyce Saunders is accused of doing behind her glassed-in front counter.
“It was outrageous that someone could even consider doing this, and doing this at a law enforcement agency,” said Montgomery Sheriff Darren M. Popkin.
Authorities say Saunders diverted at least $4,280 into her own pocket.
Her scam, they say, worked like this: When she spotted possible targets making requests, she would tell them that there was a better way. Then she would come out from behind the counter and into the lobby. Saunders quietly explained that the sheriff’s office was so backed up with requests that the court papers wouldn’t be delivered on time but that she ran a company called “Eagle Eye J Process Servers,” which for a higher price — $80 to $100 — would get the documents delivered before any hearings. Eagle Eye then went ahead and served the papers, authorities say.
Saunders did this at least 107 times, dating back to at least Jan. 27, 2009, according to court papers. Authorities say she misled people by getting them to pay a higher price, diverted funds that should have gone to the sheriff’s office and ran a private business that was in conflict with her office duties. She has been charged with one count of running a theft scheme, according to Montgomery court records.
The records do not indicate whether she has retained an attorney. Saunders, 58, of Frederick, was issued a summons in the case Friday, according to court records. She could not be reached to comment through a telephone number or e-mail address previously connected with her. Saunders, a civilian employee at the sheriff’s office, was suspended without pay in May as the investigation unfolded, officials said. Popkin said she retired July 1.
Officials at the sheriff’s office first got wind of possible trouble in the spring, according to court records. They brought in a financial crimes detective from the Montgomery County Police Department to help them investigate.
The detective searched Maryland tax records for a business entity named Eagle Eye J Process Servers. “No such business was located,” the detective wrote in court papers.
He also reviewed sheriff’s office receipt books filled out by Saunders and noted that she had voided some of the receipts. Those were compared with the actual case files, and the detective learned that Eagle Eye had served papers in at least 14 cases, according to court records.
The detective and sheriff’s officials looked at security video from the lobby and spotted Saunders coming out from behind the counter and talking with people at least five times. Investigators started talking to people to whom Saunders had made her pitch, according to court records.
The detective and sheriff’s officials decided to do a sting. On May 3, an undercover female officer approached the counter and told Saunders that she wanted a writ of summons served in a divorce case, asking whether the sheriff’s office could deliver it that day, according to court papers.
“Saunders stated ‘No’ and left her work area and entered the lobby,” court records state, referring to the undercover officer as the “UC.” “In a low voice, she told the UC that she was a ‘processor’ and could get the summons served that day. Saunders requested $100 for payment. The UC stated that only $80 was available. She agreed to the amount and the UC provided 4 $20 bills.”
Investigators, armed with warrants, immediately looked at the reception desk and Saunders’s purse and car. They then drove to her home in Frederick. They pieced together her personal receipt book and other records and calculated that she had carried out the scheme at least 107 times and diverted at least $4,280 from the sheriff’s office, authorities said.
“It was unbelievable and brazen and bold,” Popkin said, “to think she could lie to so many people and divert the money right into her pocket.”
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.