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Published April 09 2012

Fargo man pleads guilty to writing bad checks in 10-year-old son’s name

FARGO – A Fargo man was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to opening a checking account using his 10-year-old son’s Social Security number and passing more than $65,000 in bad checks.

Joseph Clifford Lightowler, 33, also must serve four years of supervised probation, during which authorities will monitor any financial accounts he opens.

Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Tanya Johnson Martinez said Lightowler’s willingness to accept responsibility for his actions and spare the state and its witnesses – including his son – a trial “weighed significantly” in the joint sentencing recommendation adopted by Judge Douglas Herman.

Lightowler had already pleaded guilty Jan. 9 to separate forgery and theft charges and was set for sentencing Monday when he changed his plea in the case involving his son.

“He’s just relieved that it’s all over with so that he can move on with his life,” said his attorney, Jeff Bredahl.

In one of the previous cases, Lightowler admitted to giving his mother a counterfeit check for $15,000 in January 2011 to pay off a loan on a vehicle they had bought.

In the other case, he pleaded guilty to passing a bogus check for $14,342 to Swanston Equipment in April 2011 to pay off a skid-steer for a friend of his.

Lightowler received six months in prison and two years of probation in each of those two cases, but they won’t add time to the four-year prison sentence because all three sentences will run concurrently.

In the most recent case, filed Jan. 25, Lightowler pleaded guilty to theft of property and unauthorized use of personal identifying information.

The latter charge was bumped from a Class C felony to a more serious Class A felony because Lightowler was convicted in 2006 of using the identities of his two sons, who were ages 2 and 3 at the time, to set up phone and cable TV accounts because his credit was bad.

During the check-writing spree in January that totaled $65,093, police say Lightowler opened a business account using his 10-year-old son’s Social Security number, then used six of the 10 starter checks to write bad checks, including one for a Cadillac Escalade sold by a private owner.

To his credit, Lightowler has made good on several of his outstanding financial obligations, Johnson Martinez said.

Meanwhile, the 10-year-old boy’s mother is still trying to contact creditors to clear up his credit history, Johnson Martinez said. She said the ID theft case stands out because the suspect’s son was a victim “and the dollar amounts were significant.”

The amount Lightowler owes in restitution is still being determined, she said.

Lightowler also faced a theft charge in Bismarck for allegedly failing to pay a $1,052 bill at Candlewood Suites, but the case was dismissed about two weeks ago after he agreed to forfeit his bond to cover the hotel bill.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-552