They preyed on the elderly -- often by trolling obituaries for new widows or widowers -- and enticed them into believing they'd won a lottery but needed to pay the tax on their winnings to claim them.
Thomas Murphy, 68, a retired principal, teacher and coach from Henderson, Minn., started as a victim. Then, police say, he joined the scam in a failed attempt to try to recoup his losses.
Authorities allege that Murphy, a widower with two master's degrees and no criminal record, eventually helped bilk elderly strangers out of more than $800,000. He worked at it for more than a year, and when police came to arrest him, he had $10,000 in his freezer, according to case documents.
Bill White, a special agent with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said Murphy's own victimization is thin justification for what he is alleged to have done.
"You're a criminal now. You're not a schmuck," White said. "Just because you feel like you're a victim, you can't victimize other people."
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Once a Victim, Retiree Allegedly Joins Scammers to Bilk Others