Florida man arrested in scheme that bilked elderly couple out of $250,000
Sunday, October 28, 2012
They were told they were winners and promised the world -- millions in cash, a new luxury car and even a flicker of fame when their names would be trumpeted on national television. All they had to do was take care of a few nominal fees.
But they had to act fast.
Six months later, an elderly Perryville, Mo., couple was out $250,000, victims of a so-called "sweepstakes scheme" that prosecutors say was at least partially engineered by a 47-year-old Orlando, Fla., man who was arrested late last week.
Patrick Percival Wilson has been charged with four felonies -- financial exploitation of the elderly, two counts of stealing by deceit and unlawful merchandising practices. Wilson was arrested by Florida police Thursday, a day after the charges were filed in Perry County by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.
"We will not stand for unscrupulous people preying on elderly Missourians and stealing their money," Koster said in a news release. "We will continue to do all we can to track down and arrest those who perpetrate these scams."
Authorities were uncertain when Wilson, who awaits extradition from an Orange County jail, would be transported the 930 miles to the Perry County Jail. But his stay could be lengthy. If Wilson comes up with the $100,000 bond, a condition is attached that orders him not to leave the state. If convicted, Wilson faces a possible punishment of life in prison.
Online court records on Saturday did not list a lawyer for Wilson or a date for his first court appearance.
As the judicial process began for Wilson last week, the retired Perryville couple was still bemoaning their quarter-million dollar mistake, one that cost them the bulk of an impressive nest egg saved over five decades of marriage and a series of menial jobs.
The 74-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified, says she questions how she could have been so foolish.
"I'll never understand it," she said in an interview with the Southeast Missourian. "Where was my mind at? This is the first gamble I ever took and it was a bad one -- bad."
The con began, according to court documents, with a phone call last August. It played out over six months until the attorney general's office was alerted in January. After an investigation, Koster's office believes the fraud was perpetrated on the woman and her 81-year-old husband by Wilson and "various individuals" yet to be identified.
In those six months, the perpetrators siphoned $250,000 from the elderly couple using only the U.S. mail, an occasional phone call and their powers of persuasion.
Callers gave the woman several names. Two said they were John Brown. One was Ray Kinlin. She also recalls a Ray West. Although confused, she was blinded by their talk of millions.
The phone calls were bolstered by a series of letters that blended the phony with the familiar, according to the documents. The one that dropped the bait of $10 million was from John McCain of the IRS. Another sweetened the pot with a promise to deliver a new Mercedes-Benz -- if they responded by the fast approaching deadline. It came from Robert Wagner of the Mega Millions Sweepstakes Co. And one hinted at fame bearing the NBC logo and saying they would be announced as "super-prize winners" on an upcoming broadcast.
Before the money could be sent, the letters and callers said, taxes on the money -- along with a few fees -- would have to be paid.
The couple began by sending relatively small amounts -- $1,500 or $2,000. When more was demanded. Wilson had $22,770 sent via Western Union, prosecutors say. Cashier's checks in the amounts of $7,000, $15,000 and $20,000 were made out to Patrick Wilson and sent to his home, court filings show.
Wilson alone received $64,770 from the couple, the prosecution alleges.
"It's kind of hard to explain to somebody else," the woman said. "But after you've sent them so much money, you keep convincing yourself that it's going to pay off, so you keep going."
The woman said she is devastated that she and her husband are nearly broke, considering the money was saved over 56 years of marriage and a string of jobs that would belie the amount they stashed away.
After he returned from the service in 1953, and they married two years later, the couple went where work was available. He worked at a rock quarry, a gas station and a feed store. She worked at a shoe factory, a dye shop and a furniture store. They raised their two sons and lived a frugal lifestyle, the woman said.
"We didn't spend a lot of money foolishly," she said. "We didn't do a lot of silly things. We just raised our boys and went to work every day. We saved everything to get where we got."
After she learned the truth, the woman has lost weight, cries a lot and is afraid to go into town for fear that people know. Her adult sons are upset with her and seem to be avoiding her, she said, although they are in charge of what's left of their now-meager account.
She spends a lot of her time reflecting on what happened. She admits she's bitter about the experience and curses herself for allowing herself to be manipulated.
"I hope nobody trusts anybody like that again," she said. "I know I never will. I didn't think we had anybody in this world that could be so dirty. But we do. I didn't know that before, but I know that now."