A wave of nausea hit Angela Williams when the bank teller showed her the bad check with her fiance's name on it.
The nearly illegible scrawl made her consider the unimaginable: Had the man she loved been tampering with her bank account?
As the teller began showing her past bank statements, Williams grew sicker and sicker. There were ATM transactions she didn't remember making at banks she had never visited.
The bad check, authorities would later tell Williams, is typical of a scheme called "kiting," in which someone tries to conceal withdrawals from someone else's account by depositing bad checks from their own account.
Williams left the bank that August afternoon reeling. An hour later her fiance, Albert William Jones III, called. He said they needed to talk.
Now, seven months later, Jones faces criminal charges, and Williams is shattered, humiliated and $12,000 poorer.
Over the course of their nearly two-year relationship, Jones used Williams' ATM card without her knowledge, gained access to her credit card number through a budgeting program on her computer and used it to pay his bills, then stole her mail to cover up the scam, according to Citrus County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Fields.
All the while, he continued asking her to marry him, Williams said.
"I know people are thinking, "Fool, how could you not know?' " Williams said. "But the real question is, how could somebody do something like this to another person?"
"I loved him completely'
Jones was arrested Wednesday and accused of grand theft and identity theft. He has posted bond and been released from the Citrus County jail pending arraignment.
Fields said he has since been contacted by two other people who accused Jones of stealing from them. Additional charges may be filed.
Repeated attempts to reach Jones by telephone and at his Inverness house were unsuccessful Friday.
The romance between Williams and Jones was hardly puppy love. He was 43 and she was 34 when they met in January 2000. Both were divorced, with children.
They were neighbors in Cypress Cove, a popular Inverness condominium complex, but didn't officially meet until friends introduced them.
Williams said she was initially drawn by Jones' tale of woe: He told her his mother had just died and his ex-girlfriend was psychotic.
His other attributes became evident later, she said. He was charming, kind and good to her 4-year-old daughter, Cierra.
"I loved him completely," Williams said.
After dating for nearly a year and a half, Jones convinced Williams to give up her condo and move with him into a house near Inverness Golf and Country Club, she said.
They decided to lease the house, with an option to buy. Williams said she paid the rent for the five months she lived there, as well as footing the bill for all the home improvements.
Williams said she never once imagined anything was amiss. Even after she was contacted by the bank about Jones' bad check, she searched for an alternate explanation.
"I thought, "I wonder how someone could have stolen one of his checks and put it in my account.' That's how far gone I was," Williams said, laughing ruefully.
She said Jones asked her to forgive him and told her he was in a financial pinch and would make it up to her. He even agreed to go to Christian counseling with Williams.
"We went to church and he had me pray with him at the altar," she said. "All that time he never told me the extent of what he had done."
Williams agreed to stay with him.
"He genuinely seemed remorseful," she said. "I really thought he would follow through on his promise."
"That is such a joke'
Williams seems an unlikely target for a scam. A graduate of Virginia Tech, she is the chair of the business department at Withlacoochee Technical Institute and was named one of Citrus County's Teachers of the Year for 2003.
She is working on a master's degree from the University of Central Florida and is a computer expert.
But Williams admitted she's not as careful with her finances as she should be. She thought she was safe because she has overdraft protection through her credit union. Also, her paychecks are automatically added to her account and her bills are automatically deducted.
Williams said she has no idea how her former fiance spent the money he is accused of taking.
When questioned by sheriff's deputies, Jones said he used it to buy presents for Williams, according to Fields, the investigating detective.
"That is such a joke," Williams said. "Not once in two years did I ever get flowers, except for roses he cut out of the neighbor's yard. He charged my birthday dinner to my (credit) card."
She said that, taken together, the value of the cubic zirconium earrings, necklace and bracelet Jones gave her for various holidays wouldn't exceed $500.
She wants answers
While Williams agreed to stay with Jones after the bad-check incident, she started investigating.
She asked the bank and credit card companies to send all her statements from the past year.
Williams couldn't believe what she saw. It appeared Jones had made a withdrawal on the date of their one-year anniversary.
There was another mysterious withdrawal on her daughter's birthday, just hours after Jones had dressed up as a cartoon character to entertain Cierra.
The day they returned after a trip to Virginia: withdrawal.
The day they returned from a trip to Walt Disney World: withdrawal.
By October, she knew she had to leave. Williams began looking for a new place to live and moved out Dec. 17.
It was then she contacted a lawyer, who advised her to research the matter and take the evidence to authorities.
Williams filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Office onFeb. 7. Fields brought the information to the State Attorney's Office, where prosecutors filed the criminal charges and arranged for Jones to be arrested.
It's been an extremely difficult time, both emotionally and financially, but Williams said her friends, family and pastor at Gulf to Lake Baptist Church have helped her immensely.
Williams was so humiliated by the whole thing, she considered never reporting it. But she felt strongly something needed to be done.
And Williams wants answers.
"A part of me really wants to know if this was his plan all along," she said.
_ Crime reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnsonsptimes.com.