South Norwalk business hurting over bounced paychecks; Duff says NEON will be held accountable

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Kalita Burden and Dwight Hilleman cash a check Monday at Cash-A-Check in South Norwalk. Hilleman has owned the store for 23 years.

NORWALK, Conn. – Nearly $15,000 in sudden red ink at a South Norwalk business has prompted a father and son to mention a possible criminal act at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) in connection with bounced paychecks, which they cashed in good faith after 23 years of no problems with NEON.

State Sen. Bob Duff said Monday that he and other state, federal and local leaders have similar questions, but the suspicions go back much further than the bounced checks.

“There are on-going conversations about criminal activity, which may go back longer than recent memory. Holding people accountable for their behavior is a must and needs to happen. I don’t believe the interim CEO and current NEON board has the resources to move forward and look backward at the same time. There are many of us who will be working hard to ensure that those who brought NEON to this current crisis are held to the highest standards of the law.”

Cash-A-Check, located on North Main Street, cashed paychecks for 18 NEON employees on Nov. 5, owner Dwight Hilleman said Monday. All 18 checks came back at once marked NSF – insufficient funds – a total of nearly $15,000 in bounced checks, Hilleman said.

Hilleman said his son, Bob Hilleman, mentioned all the problems at NEON when the employees came in with paychecks issued through a “brand new” account at Citibank, instead of the customary Bank of America paychecks.

“I felt that NEON would not issue checks if they didn’t have the money,” Dwight Hilleman said. “So we cashed them. … I also felt people seldom have problems with brand new accounts because they have good intentions and they put money in the account, or possibly Citibank had extended them a line of credit.

“We had no indication that they would not be good.”

The Hilleman’s business is now legally classified as a “a holder in due course,” which they said would probably mean a judge would authorize them to try to collect from either party associated with the checks, NEON or the employees.

Going after the employees is not what they want to do, Bob Hilleman said.

“These are our customers and people that we know,” he said.

“Our first action is to try to go to powers that be at NEON,” Dwight Hilleman said. “Or DSS (Department of Social Services). Our objective would be to try and find somebody who says that, yeah, NEON, or whatever the entity is going to be, owes money. They owe money to all those NEON employees, who they gave bad checks to also.”

The elder Hilleman said “some 100 people” received bad paychecks from NEON. He said he had heard that one of them deposited a check in Chase Bank, which might mean they are now “messed up.”

“If Chase let them use some of that money now they have an overdraft case,” he said. “Once you have an overdraft at one of these banks you go onto a black list. You go onto a black list that the banks share and you can’t open a bank account at any bank. That’s not a secret, that’s been published a lot. You get locked out. A lot of customers are in that situation, that’s why they’re here.”

Two of the employees have since come back to Cash-A-Check, but they don’t know anything, he said

It’s not possible to call Citibank to get information, Dwight Hilleman said.

“Citibank won’t talk to you about the weather. They’re terrible,” he said.

How bad is the loss?

“Fifteen thousand is more than we usually lose in two years,” he said. “We’re not going to miss meals. We’re not going to go out of business. But it hurts.”

Large organizations don’t usually write bad checks, Bob Hilleman said.

“That could be a potential criminal act to do that,” he said.

Many people connected to the situation wonder why no one has been arrested. Duff said that’s an appropriate conversation, which will happen in time.

“My first priority is to open the child care program, get employees paid and open the NEON building so that critical services can be restored for needy residents,” he said. “All three have the same level of importance, in my opinion.”

Neither NEON interim CEO and President Tommie Jackson nor NEON board Chairman Mike Berkhoff returned emails and phone calls requesting comment.


7 responses to “South Norwalk business hurting over bounced paychecks; Duff says NEON will be held accountable”

  1. Casey Smith

    So, how do we help recoup this loss? Should a bunch of us go down there and buy money orders to help off set the $15,000?
    I’m waiting on my own paycheck so I can give some money to Person to Person to help out the staff who got stiffed, so instead maybe I’ll withdraw the cash, and buy a money order for Person to Person. The ripples just keep on going.
    Thanks, Nancy and Mark for at least letting us know about it!

  2. dawn

    I hope that the business does press criminal charges.
    There is a theft and fraud right under the noses of the city officials, state officials and federal officials. and yet everyone just twiddles their thumbs.
    i thought CDI was an specialist in opening a head start program in a hurry. i think one article said 24 hours. we ae on almost a month now. this is embarrassing. connecticut and Norwalk look like fools. You cannot possible expect me to believe that this is impossible.
    Norwalk – revoke the lease
    CDI – open a program.

  3. Neoscam

    The cash a check place should have taken better measures, but really this is a felony. When will our civil servants do their jobs and deliver justice?

  4. M Allen

    Paycheck, personal check, it makes no difference. These are the risks associated with cashing checks in the blind. It is why banks have much higher standards with cashing checks or allowing access to funds that are uncollected. This isn’t the 1940’s. It is not difficult to get an account at a bank and pay minimal to no fees. And I don’t want to hear about how banks are bad and fees are high. What was the fee this business charged those individuals to cash their checks? Check cashing establishments typically charge a fee to cash checks. They don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Banks are there for a reason. As for the comment made in the story of bank black lists, you go on one if you leave an overdraft unresolved. Once it is cleared up, you wont have a problem opening an account. Banks just don’t want a customer who will overdraft their account and then leave for a clean account somewhere else.

  5. loveforthecity

    It is funny how all of a sudden senator Duff is trying to take the lead on the NEON issue. Duff’s and State Rep Morris’ failed leadership is what got NEON into trouble.

    Duff are you going to be the savier of NEON? You seem to be in bed with Morris, Burgess and the old boys network who has failed South Norwalk. To try and come in now after the place has failed really tells something about your character.

  6. @loveforthecity.,
    Finally, someone who understands! Duff is bogus and in “The Hour” he is all over the place cutting ribbons/”championing” the underdogs (too bad what happens when that big dog lays down with you – you get the fleas). He left NEON to get INFESTED with fleas and did nothing to help (not buying the editorial pieces thrown together here-n-there, not at all).
    He is just a photo-Op – then “I’m outta here” – he’ll be damned what happens to the organization after.
    As for Morris???? Well, the chirps blaring from the crickets sound very lovely…………

  7. Don’t Panic

    Has anyone actually filed a criminal complaint with the NPD? Investigations don’t start themselves.

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