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Server’s electronic tip alteration is forgery, COA rules

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A Logan’s Roadhouse server who used a computer to alter the amount of tip a customer left for her on a credit card can be convicted of forgery, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday.

Customer Nicolette Lee noticed that her credit card had been charged $2 more than the amount she authorized after eating at Logan’s in November 2011. She called the restaurant, which credited her back the $2. Manager Chad Keefe discovered that several of server Lindsay Tatusko’s checks from that same day also contained discrepancies in the amount of tip left on the receipt and what Tatusko entered into the restaurant’s computer system. Keefe reported the incidents to police, and Tatusko was charged with and found guilty of Class C felony forgery and Class D felony theft.

In Lindsay Tatusko v. State of Indiana, 29A04-1208-CR-413, Tatusko claimed that the evidence that she submitted a different tip amount than that authorized by Lee into the computer system does not constitute a violation under the forgery statute.

“But we agree with the State that Lee’s bill was ‘not closed out and completed’ until Tatusko reviewed the credit card slip, entered the tip amount into the computer, and hit ‘authorize settle’ a second time,” Judge Edward Najam wrote.

“Here, had the entire transaction been conducted on paper, Tatusko would have had to change the tip amount in writing, which would have satisfied the elements of the forgery statute, even according to Tatusko. Just because she changed the tip amount electronically does not mean that her conduct falls outside of the statute.”

The COA also denied Tatusko’s claim that she was denied effective assistance of trial counsel when her attorney did not move the trial court to ask each remaining potential juror whether comments by Juror 34 had any affect on their ability to remain unbiased. During voir dire, Juror 34 said he had rented property to Tatusko and kicked her out for not paying bills on time. No one objected to the juror’s comments. Later, when the court asked all the prospective jurors as a group whether any could be biased against Tatusko, Juror 34 said “Yeah, I – since my relationship with her was not good … .” Juror 34 was then excused.

The COA found it to be reasonable to assume that the defense counsel’s strategy was to avoid drawing further attention to the juror’s comments.

 

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