“Hide and safeguard it,” the man told her. A key, he said, would arrive soon – if she paid taxes on her winnings.
The woman would soon fork out $43,500 in a quest for that key and would end up exposing a nationwide scheme to scam the elderly using safes as props, court records reveal.
Charges piling up
The scheme is detailed in records filed in both Knox County’s criminal courts and in U.S. District Court in Knoxville after the arrest of one alleged co-conspirator in the scam – Betty Lou Repka Myers, 76, of Canyon Lake, Texas.
Myers, represented by defense attorney Cullen Wojcik, is set to appear next week in U.S. District Court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Poplin to decide if she must be locked up pending trial in an indictment issued earlier this month by a federal grand jury.
She is charged in that case, which is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kolman, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud. Myers faces charges in Knox County of felony theft and financial exploitation of the elderly.
Myers also holds the key to law enforcement’s quest to unmask the identities of at least two other people involved in the scam as court records make clear she was working with at least two others in her alleged defrauding of the Knox County woman.
USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee is not identifying the victim. The elderly often are reluctant to report their victimization in financial scams for fear of public embarrassment. Kolman used only the woman’s initials as identification in the indictment for that reason.
A safe and a key
Court records detail the following about the scheme and the Knox County woman’s victimization as part of it:
The scammers rounded up telephone numbers for the elderly, though the method is not detailed in the federal indictment. A scammer – usually a man – would phone a scam target and announce the victim had been entered in a sweepstakes for the elderly and won millions. That part of the scam is a repeat of hundreds of similar schemes seeking to con the elderly into forking out money or bank account information.
But the scammers in this newest scheme added a twist.
“It was part of the conspiracy that some elderly victims were sent a locked safe, which was falsely represented to the victim as containing sweepstakes winnings that could be accessed only by a key to be provided to the victim at a later date,” the indictment stated.
Stalking their prey
In January, the 75-year-old Knox County woman received a call from a man bearing news of sweepstakes winnings. The male caller “feigned personal interest" in the woman’s well-being in a series of phone calls Kolman alleged were designed to garner the woman’s trust.
A co-conspirator in Florida shipped the woman a safe in February. She received another call from the man who had promised delivery of the safe. This time, he told her to write two checks, totaling $21,000, with Myers as the payee, to cover taxes on her winnings. She did, mailing them to an address he provided in Canyon Lake, Texas.
The indictment alleges Myers deposited one of those checks into her bank account March 5. A day later, Myers showed up on the woman’s doorstep, state court records show.
“(Myers) told the victim more money was needed regarding the sweepstakes,” a warrant stated.
“(Myers) told the victim to go to two different SunTrust branch locations and remove money from the victim’s account to give to (Myers).”
With Myers behind the wheel, the woman did as she was instructed, withdrawing $22,500 and giving it to Myers, the warrant stated.
But when Myers demanded the woman’s cellphone, saying her “boss wanted the phone,” the woman balked and phoned authorities, according to warrants.
Knox County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Monroe wrote in the warrant deputies found the woman’s cash in Myers’ purse, along with one of the checks the woman had been instructed to send to Texas.
Full Article & Source:
Knox woman helps unmask nationwide scam on elderly, using safes as props, promises of millions