Con man's scheme falls short in Cape Girardeau

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

JACKSON, Mo. -- A Thebes, Ill., man admitted that he conned people in Cape Girardeau out of money by claiming to have car trouble and asking their help to purchase parts.

James H. Powell, Jr., 36, said he had been using the same scam for about two years here but didn't realize that telling lies to get money was against the law.

Monday, Powell pleaded guilty to six counts of stealing by deceit and three counts of attempted stealing by deceit. All misdemeanor charges.

Associate Circuit Judge Gary A. Kamp sentenced Powell to serve 15 days in jail. He also sentenced him to six months in jail on each stealing count, but suspended that sentence. Powell will have two years supervised probation.

Kamp ordered restitution to the victims as a condition of parole.

Powell approached people in public places such as store parking lots and tell them he needed money for a car part, usually an alternator or battery. He would promise to pay the victim back once he got home to Illinois.

Turned down in Cairo

In his confession Cape Girardeau patrolman Jason Selzer after his arrest March 21, Powell said he had tried the same scam at least eight times in Cairo, Ill., but all those people had turned him down.

"Each one gave a sob story about how they have problems of their own," Powell said.

"He found the people of Cape Girardeau to be a more compassionate group than residents of Cairo," Prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle said. Powell estimated that four out of 10 Good Samaritans in Cape Girardeau gave him money.

"We are continuing our largess, now we are providing him with 15 nights of lodging and meals," Swingle said.

However, Powell will eventually be required to repay the county for his jail board.

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