Perpetrator of business license scam sentenced to year in jail

RIVERSIDE – A Riverside man who posed as a county official to illegally collect payments for renewing expired fictitious business licenses was sentenced today to a year in jail and 36 months probation.

Thomas Gerald Elder, 45, was arrested in the fall of 2011 in connection with the 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.

A plea agreement negotiated between the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and Elder’s attorney, Mary Bernal, led to all but one of the charges being dismissed earlier this month. Under the deal, Elder pleaded guilty to grand theft.

Superior Court Judge Helios Hernandez certified the plea agreement today and ordered that the defendant make full restitution to his victims, making one of the conditions of his probation that he not operate a business or have any connection to a business that purports to be endorsed by a government agency.

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 submitted the invoice bearing the county seal under the name ”San Bernardino-Riverside County Fictitious Business Name Violators Office,” authorities said.

Elder had registered that fictitious business name shortly before he began sending out the bogus notices, according to District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall.

According to prosecutors, 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.

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