CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A general court-martial began here Thursday for a Marine private accused of passing bad checks and misusing a debit card to steal almost $20,000 in merchandise and cash from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service on Okinawa.

Pvt. Robert N. Harvey, 20, faces a maximum sentence of 64 years and six months in prison and a dishonorable discharge on charges of larceny, writing checks on an account with insufficient funds to cover them and intent to defraud.

The charges stem from more than 40 checks Harvey is accused of writing on a Navy Federal Credit Union checking account. He opened the account in North Carolina in April 2005 but did not use it until July, after he was transferred to Marine Air Control Group 18 at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, court officials said.

That’s when — without depositing any money into the account — Harvey went on a shopping spree, prosecutor Capt. Keith Smith contended in his opening argument. Harvey is accused of writing some 40 checks in July and August, for items including computers, a stereo system, DVDs and CDs and for cash totaling $17,798.

Smith pointed out that Harvey also is charged with larceny by using a debit card on a Fort Sill National Bank account to steal $4,350 between July and October.

“Between this (NFCU) account and the Fort Sill debit card, he amassed a debt that totaled nearly $20,000,” Smith told the court-martial panel of three senior enlisted members and two officers. “None of it was for necessity items.”

According to an NFCU official who testified Thursday, some of the checks were written after she spoke with Harvey about the insufficient-fund problem and informed him that his checking account was closed.

Capt. Jennelle Janabajal, Harvey’s lawyer, said he never intended to steal.

“The question you really need to answer is what was he thinking when he made these transactions,” she told the jury. “This isn’t just that he had no money in his account when he made purchases. The evidence will show Private Harvey had a lack of understanding of the basic principles of checks, checking accounts and the principles of financing.

“It was simply a misunderstanding,” she continued. “He’s a young Marine who didn’t understand how to use his checks and his check card.”

Prosecution witnesses testified Thursday that Harvey was sent many notices concerning having insufficient funds in his account to cover his purchases and the only time any money was deposited into his account was one paycheck directly deposited in August, just before his checking account was closed.

Since January, Harvey’s pay has been garnished $347 a month to repay AAFES, according to evidence presented.

Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division agents testified that Harvey readily admitted to writing checks with no money in his account and that his handwriting samples matched the signatures and other writing on the checks he used at AAFES.

The prosecution was expected to end presentation of its case Friday.

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