Life can be tough for a reformed con artist. Chase Brown knows.
Not long after release from federal prison for scams running into the six figures, Brown recently drew attention from Springfield police.
Anyone recognize this guy?, cops asked on the department's Facebook page in a post that featured a still from a Menard's security camera. Yep, Brown responded in the comments section: That's me – is there an issue?
Brown, 23, had written nearly $1,800 in bad checks during seven visits to Menard's at 2701 Market Place last October. "I looked at the checks and all of the signatures appeared to be the same," a Springfield police detective wrote in a December report. "There was one check that had a driver's license number written down on it but it was incorrect and could not be linked to anybody."
The checking account holder was a limited liability corporation created last October and "terminated," in the nomenclature of the Illinois Secretary of State, in December. Cops combed a law enforcement database and also looked online but could not locate a woman listed as the LLC's manager.
Stumped, a detective put images taken from a Menard's camera on the department's web page and got several anonymous tips: That's Brown, folks said.
Brown earned repute shortly after graduating from Rochester High School, where he played on the school's state championship football team. He never starred on the gridiron, but he drew notice in 2020 from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mills, who sentenced Brown to three years for wire fraud.
Frauds included unauthorized charges for charter jets on a friend's credit card, promises to deliver medical supplies that never were provided after payment was made and six figures for aviation fuel purchased on credit after Experian wrongly verified that Brown was CEO of a medical supply company with more than $2.8 million in sales, prosecutors said. At one point, Brown, while staying in a rental home in Los Angeles, hired a plane for a short hop in hopes of buying a tiger, according to court documents. All the while, he was on probation after pleading guilty to bad check charges in Sangamon County Circuit Court and agreeing to a $17,000 restitution order.
"This is unbelievable," Mills declared before pronouncing sentence three years ago.
Brown told the judge that he'd found God: Before you is a changed man, he vowed via remote from the Macon County jail.
"I'd love to go back to school and major in business administration, your honor," Brown said before being sentenced. "I promise to be nothing short of an asset to my community and a more (spiritual) man to serve the good of my people and the good of humanity."
After cops put Brown's image online following the Menard's incident, tipsters included a Springfield police officer, who reported that he'd recently gone to Brown's house to repossess a black Dodge pictured on the Facebook post. Someone accompanying Brown had been driving it.
An employee at a Dirksen Parkway car dealership confirmed that car had been repossessed for nonpayment and gave police paperwork, including a sales agreement, showing that Brown had purchased the vehicle, according to a police report.
This is all a mistake, Brown told the cops: My bank closed my account without telling me, and I've paid Menard's in full. He told an officer that the bank probably didn't want to do business with a convicted forger. Police soon received a call from a Menard's employee, who said that Brown's mother had paid what was owed and that the company did not want to press charges.
"It was an honest mistake," Brown says in an interview. "I took care of it."
Brown, who is on probation, says that he never owned the Dodge; rather, he says, he was co-signer on the loan. "Someone I worked with asked me to do it," he says.
Brown says he's whittling down a $438,000 restitution order, with a bank, medical supply companies and a hospital among 11 victims due money. World Fuel Services, which sells aviation fuel, is due nearly $235,000.
"I made stupid decisions – don't get me wrong: I was young and dumb," Brown says. "I'm trying to better my life and myself. I am doing the right thing. I'm just trying to keep my family's name out of things. I'm a good person. ... I want to think I'm a pretty intelligent guy. I just used my intelligence in the wrong way."
Brown says that he works for a construction company and goes to church every Sunday. He says that he also helps the needy. "They don't talk about me going to homeless shelters in Springfield and handing out food," he says. "I was sponsoring children overseas. I do good things, too. That's never talked about."
Brown says that his probation officer knows about the misunderstanding that drew police attention.
"I still go to Menard's to this day," Brown says. "I use a debit card now."