Man jailed for cashing government check

Ikenna Njoki spent a weekend in jail for trying to cash a check.
When the US government mailed Ikenna Njoki an $8,000 check for being a first-time home owner, he knew right away what it was going to go towards.

I was really excited. For the first time, I actually got to buy a lawn mower, mow my lawn and everything,” the 28-year-old Washington State native tells Seattle’s King5 News.

Trying to get that lawnmower, however, costs Njoki his car, his job and his freedom. He spent a weekend in jail trying to cash that check.

Clerks at the Auburn, Washington Chase bank branch that Njoki went into thought the check was a forgery. After going over the document for half an hour, Njoki had to run but said he’d be back later. When he returned the next day to the bank, the cops were there waiting for him.

"He had two forms of valid ID, a check issued by Chase, he walked in there during normal business hours. I don't see any valid basis for suspicion in the first place," Njoku’s attorney tells King5 News.

Njoku said he was embarrassed by the misunderstanding but it only got worse when he was arrested.

He sat in a cell over the weekend and couldn’t call in to his job. When he was let out of jail, he was also let off of work. And when Njoku went to go get his car that he parked days earlier at the bank, he learned it wasn’t there. It was towed and ended up sold at auction while Njoku was still unable to cash the cashier’s check, a check that was issued itself by Chase.

“It shouldn’t take them a day and a half to research a check,” he said.

And it shouldn’t take a weekend behind bars for Njoku to get his lawnmower either. A year later with no apology, Njoku’s lawyer is considering filing claims against Chase that they discriminated against his client. Njoku was born in Washington State but his mom and dad emigrated from Nigeria. Now he borrows his mother’s car when he can pick up part-time construction gigs.

Felix Luna is representing Njoku and thinks that Chase may have broken federal law by discriminating in banking transactions on the basis of race or presumed national origin. A letter was recently issued by his legal team asking for “full and fair financial compensation” for the “unlawful conversion” of Njoku’s property and the resulting damages. They offer the bank ten days to respond. A week later a Chase rep say’s they’re reviewing the situation.

If it takes them as long as they did to apologize, Njoku might be waiting awhile. It took over a year for someone from Chase to say they’re sorry. Writing to King5, a bank rep says, “We are working quickly to understand all the details so we can reach a fair resolution."