A Riverside man who posed as a county official to illegally collect payments for renewing expired fictitious business licenses pleaded guilty today.
Thomas Gerald Elder, 45, was arrested in the fall of 2011 in connection with a document-processing scam. He was charged with two counts of forgery of an official seal and one count each of grand theft, attempted grand theft exceeding $450 and misdemeanor false advertising.
During a trial-setting conference before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Helios Hernandez, Elder pleaded guilty to grand theft as part of a deal negotiated between the prosecution and defense.
Hernandez scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 22, during which he’s expected to dismiss the remaining charges.
Under the plea agreement, Elder is slated to receive a 365-day jail sentence, though with credit for time served, he’ll probably go free. He will also be ordered to make full restitution to the victims, D.A.’s office spokesman John Hall said.
The judge left Elder’s bail set at $25,000. He’s being held at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
According to prosecutors, the defendant came to the attention of sheriff’s investigators in March 2011, when a business owner reported receiving an official-looking document claiming that his fictitious business name had expired and could be renewed with a mail-in payment of $501.
The Assessor-Clerk-Recorder’s Office charges less than $50 for registration.
Elder allegedly submitted the invoice bearing the county seal under the name “San Bernardino-Riverside County Fictitious Business Name Violators Office.”
“It was determined that about a week earlier, Elder filed a fictitious business name for that company with the Riverside County ACR office,” Hall said. “It is alleged that Elder altered county documents by removing the county clerk’s address and inserting his own post office box address and added his company logo … giving the impression his company was affiliated with the county.”
Prosecutors believe Elder may have snared dozens of unsuspecting business owners throughout the region.