ST. GEORGE — A man who was charged in a string of crimes involving counterfeit checks is going to jail, but the sentencing judge said the people of Utah should not foot the bill to house him any longer than necessary.

Kai Elijah Ramos, 38, of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, appeared in 5th District Court on Nov. 16 for sentencing after he and another suspect were arrested on Sept. 13. The arrests followed multiple investigations conducted in three jurisdictions across Washington County, wherein Ramos was identified as one of the suspects involved in a check forgery scheme.

Officers were dispatched to a bank in Washington City on Sept. 13 after receiving a report that three men entered the branch and attempted to cash fraudulent checks, as alleged in charging documents filed at the time of the arrest.

Stock image of a Washington City Police Officer in uniform | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The suspects had left the bank and patrol units began to circulate the area but were unable to locate the suspects. Meanwhile, investigators learned the bank in Washington City received a call from a St. George branch advising that the St. George Police Department was looking for the suspects in connection with a similar incident.

Later that day, a witness told police one suspect was at a gas station on Telegraph Street in Washington City near where the alleged incident occurred, but when officers arrived, they confirmed that the male was Ramos by checking his Tennessee driver’s license.

Ramos told police he was passing through St. George, had been in the area for a few days and had been working construction in Las Vegas, Nevada. He also told officers the check he tried to cash was in his pocket, but when pressed further, he declined to answer additional questions and was taken into custody. ust prior to transport, the two bank drafts were recovered by police.

At the time of his arrest, two separate cases were filed against Ramos that included multiple charges, including two second-degree felonies that included one count each of communications fraud and pattern of unlawful activity. He also faces five counts of forgery, each a third-degree felony.

On the second case, the suspect was charged with five third-degree felonies that include three counts of possession of a forgery device, one count of communications fraud and one count of possession of a controlled substance.

The defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery and one count each of possession of a forgery device and possession of a controlled substance during a hearing held last month, and the remaining charges were dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea.

During the hearing Nov. 16, prosecutor Philip Soelberg said the defendant is a multi-state offender with a fairly lengthy criminal history and had already served time in federal prison for a drug distribution offense.

Kai Elijah Ramos, 38, of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, appears with Defense Attorney Caleb Cottam during sentencing hearing held in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, Nov. 16, 2023 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

He said Ramos traveled to Utah solely for the purpose of committing these offenses, which is an aggravating factor. Soelberg added that the scheme involved going to multiple banks in the area to attempt to pass forged checks. 

With those factors in mind, the prosecutor asked that Ramos be sentenced to 150 days in jail, followed by other standard provisions.

Ramos’ defense attorney Caleb Cottam asked the court to follow the recommendations set forth in the presentence report, which recommended 150 days in jail, and he also asked the court to consider granting his client good time, as well as credit for time served.

Cottam said Ramos is looking into setting up an interstate compact agreement, which is a contract between two states to ensure that offenders have the proper supervision should they move from state to state.

If approved, the agreement would allow Ramos to finish out his probation and other terms of his sentence in another state, which in this case would likely be either Mississippi or Tennessee, his home state, Cottam said. 

District Judge John J. Walton started by saying that 150 days in jail is nowhere near enough time for these types of offenses where Ramos has come to this community just to victimize people and steal their hard-earned income. 

“You targeted this community in the way it was done,” the judge said. 

On the other hand, Walton added, the only reason he was not sending the defendant to prison was because the judge didn’t think the taxpayers in Utah should have to pay to house and feed the defendant for that long. 

District Judge John J. Walton conducts a sentencing hearing for Kai Elijah Ramos in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, Nov. 16, 2023 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Walton then ordered Ramos to serve 150 days in jail in Washington County with credit for time served, but no good time, and the two prison sentences of 0-5 years were suspended in the case.

The judge also ordered that Ramos be placed on three years probation,  during which Ramos was ordered to obtain a mental health and substance abuse evaluation and complete any treatment as recommended.

Should the compact agreement be set up prior to the defendant’s release date, then he could be eligible for an early release to leave the state.

Walton also said that while he did not know what other states would do with the defendant if Ramos committed any further offenses or serious parole violations, he made it clear what would happen here.  

“If you stay in this community and you’re on probation here and you commit any serious offense, then you’re on a fast track to prison,” Walton said.

The second suspect, Joe Charles Aguilera, 53, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was found at the same gas station on Sept. 13. He was booked into jail facing similar charges. Aguilera remains in custody in Washington County and his case is pending in the courts. No details were made available on the third suspect.

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