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Fraud scheme ringleader sentenced to prison

One of three ringleaders accused in a check fraud scheme that targeted local businesses and agencies was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday after admitting to his role in the scheme.

Craig Sterling Knight, 35, was sentenced in Jackson County Circuit Court after pleading guilty to one count of racketeering and five aggravated identity theft counts, admitting he provided the bank numbers that another suspect used to create fraudulent checks that victimized businesses, an Oregon Department of Justice child support account and the local nonprofit Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland between July 15 and Oct. 12, 2016.

Deputy District Attorney Alyssa Claseman said Knight accessed the bank account numbers while he was working at a Klamath Falls car dealership, though she said she couldn't identify the dealership while the case is open.  

Though prosecutors dropped 56 identity theft counts against Knight as part of the plea agreement, Claseman said that in admitting to the racketeering charge, Knight admitted to his role in the entire enterprise that numerous times victimized about a dozen businesses, including World Famous Auto, a local Burger King franchisee and Subaru of Bend, along with the nonprofit and the Department of Justice account.

Knight also admitted to a string of unrelated burglary, forgery, return fraud and car theft cases Thursday. Zachary Light, Knight's court-appointed defense lawyer, said the crimes stemmed from a "pretty significant" methamphetamine problem.

"It's quite fair to say he was not in his right mind," Light said.

Knight claimed he found sobriety while lodged in the Jackson County Jail since October, expressing gratitude to law enforcement and remorse to victims.

"I want to sincerely apologize to everyone I took from so freely," Knight said. "I know what it's like to be taken from — it hurts."

Knight agreed to pay restitution as part of the plea agreement. Claseman asked for 90 days to come up with a restitution amount, though she provided an estimate in the "neighborhood" of $20,000, a figure that seemed low to Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia, considering the number of charges.

"It was quite a crime spree," Mejia said. "All this crime for, really, so little money."

Knight will serve a total 48 months in prison followed by three years' post-prison supervision after Mejia sentenced him to 36 months in prison on the racketeering case, plus an additional 12 months on unrelated charges, including unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, first-degree forgery, first-degree burglary and first-degree theft.

Two other people, Melodie Dawn Pinner, 36, and Jeffrey Adam Todd, 28, face racketeering charges in the check fraud case, and 11 others face related felony identity theft charges. 

Pinner remains lodged in the Jackson County Jail on numerous identity theft, aggravated identity theft and racketeering charges. A trial date is set for March 22 in the check fraud case, and another is set for April 13 in a separate aggravated identity theft case in which Medford police seized check-making material, computers and printers from her home in January.

An arrest warrant remains outstanding for Jeffrey Allen Todd, 28, of Eagle Point, after he failed to make his court appearance Feb. 8, court records show.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Craig Sterling Knight