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October 9, 2012

Status hearings in 18 forgery, fraud appeals

GREENVILLE — Status hearings are scheduled today for a local man who won new trials on appeal, after pleading guilty last year in connection with an eight-month string of writing hot checks and creating fake IDs.

The state’s highest appeals court ruled that the prison sentences given to James Timothy Bonham of Greenville were illegal.

The hearings are set this morning in the 354th District Court.

Bonham was indicted on 19 felony counts of forgery and fraud related to what prosecutors claimed was a scheme to bilk multiple victims out of several thousand dollars. He entered guilty pleas in March 2011 and was sentenced to 20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on 18 of the charges.

According to the indictments for forgery of a financial instrument and fraudulent use/possession of identifying information, Bonham allegedly manufactured four fake driver’s licenses and/or identification cards, which he used to cash, or attempt to cash, 15 forged checks ranging from $35 to more than $3,000 between Dec. 4, 2009 and Aug. 18, 2010.

A total of 16 of the indictments were each punishable upon conviction by a maximum sentence of up to two years in a state jail, with three of the charges punishable upon conviction by a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

The maximum punishments for some of the indictments were enhanced up 20 years in prison, due to Bonham’s previous criminal record.

The indictments indicated that Bonham had four prior felony convictions on his record, including two for forgery and one each for burglary of a building and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

Bonham was convicted of 13 charges of forgery, four charges of fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, and one charge of manufacture with intent to sell a counterfeit instrument and was sentenced to 20 years in prison on each charge.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Court had previously asked the court to review 17 of the convictions and provide findings of fact and conclusions of law.

In an opinion issued August 22, the appeals court said that it was granting the new trials for Bonham, which was in agreement with the trial court and the prosecutors on the case.

“Applicant contends that his sentences are illegal because the enhancements alleged in the indictments did not authorize his twenty-year sentences,” the ruling said. “After remand, it is clear that Applicant’s sentences in the seventeen state jail felonies are illegal. The trial court recommends granting relief. The State concedes that the case challenged in the WR-77,224-18 writ application, in which applicant’s sentence is within the applicable punishment range, was part of the same plea agreement that authorized the seventeen illegal sentences. Applicant is entitled to relief in all of these cases.”

Bonham was returned to the custody of the Hunt County Jail on September 4.

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