The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JULY  2012

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






Elder Fraud
One couple's losses and hard lessons

Continued from page 11...

On Aug. 17, 2006, laptops valued at more than $7,200 arrived from Hayward, Calif. She sent them to a "Joseph Reid" on Sixth Avenue in the Montreal borough of Verdun.

Parcels kept coming -- from Texas and Massachusetts, South Carolina and Washington, Missouri and Maine.

By December 2006, with the Parkers' credit card debt topping $70,000, the family held another kitchen-table intervention.

This time, they persuaded their parents to grant Donna a limited power of attorney. One of the first things she did was change their phone number -- though too late to stop them making $650 in calls to Jamaica in one month.

In January 2007, she accompanied her parents to the credit union, where they took out a 30-year, $179,000 mortgage on their home.

But it was like shoveling sand against the tide. Late that spring, Donna Parker got a call from a grocery store near her parents' home. Her mother had been in five times that day to wire money.

She remembers one particular evening, sitting around the kitchen table, attempting to help her parents draft a budget. About an hour and a half into the visit, she realized they hadn't been paying attention.

"Why aren't you listening to this?" she asked.

"We're waiting for the phone call," her mother replied. They were expecting delivery that night of a new Mercedes, another supposed reward that would never come, of course.

Exasperated, Donna stormed out.

Miriam Parker had become a cog in Howard Clark's fraud machine. The FBI's Fleming decided to turn the tables on him.

On April 3, 2007, Miriam phoned him -- this time with Fleming recording.

Using "trap and trace" technology, the FBI determined the pitch calls were coming from Montreal, and Mounties soon had a real name for "Howard Clark" -- he was Clayton Atkinson.

Atkinson had 13 convictions for assault, theft and weapons possession stretching back to 1994.

On April 13, 2007, three officers in blue flak vests positioned themselves at the door of his apartment. An agent down the hall dialed Clark's number, and the ringtone sounded from inside.

In Raleigh, a federal grand jury handed up a 35-count indictment against Atkinson and two co-defendants -- Dave Stewart and Jamaal McKenzie, aka "Joseph Reid". The three were charged with one count each of conspiracy and interstate transportation of stolen property, seven counts of wire fraud and 26 counts of mail fraud.

Even then, the trouble wasn't finished for the Parkers, obviously now a marked couple.

Not long after the indictments, Donna Parker got a call from a Western Union office near her parents' home. They'd been there twice in one day, "sending money to a relative in Jamaica."

By then, Charles and Miriam Parker were nearly 84. Pushed to the edge, Donna suggested it was time they let her take over their affairs.

The court appointed Donna Parker guardian of their estate.

The criminal case ground slowly along, and last year Atkinson and Stewart pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and mail fraud. (Jamaal McKenzie is awaiting trial in Canada on an unrelated assault charge.) The plea agreement listed 31 individuals who'd been defrauded of a total of $840,705.

When Atkinson appeared for sentencing at U.S. District Court in Raleigh on March 15, Miriam and Donna Parker were there. Charles Parker had died just a month earlier.

Miriam Parker had imagined Howard as much older, perhaps with gray hair. Standing before them was a 33-year-old man, his dark hair cropped close.

When the time came for victim impact statements, Donna Parker rose. She told Judge Terrence W. Boyle that it had taken two years to pay off the credit card debt her parents had racked up. She talked of the cashed-in insurance policies and liquidated stocks, and of the mortgage they'd been forced to take out.

She told of having to take her parents to court, and of the lingering resentment it had caused.

"To this day," she said, still referring to her father in the present tense, "they are convinced that their family deprived them of their right to prizes and lottery winnings."

Her father was now beyond further harm, she told the judge. But she lived in constant fear that her mother would be victimized again.

"The sad thing is, I know my family is not unique," she said. "Scammers who prey on the elderly are a blight on society."

For his part, Atkinson pledged to "pursue legitimate things in the future." He hoped to one day return to Canada to care for his aging father.

Boyle sentenced Atkinson to 12½ years in prison, Stewart to 6½. He also ordered them to pay $840,705 in restitution -- $84,350 of it to Miriam Parker.

No money has been recovered, Agent Fleming told the judge.

Even today, Miriam Parker seems conflicted about the man she still refers to as Howard.

"He was always very nice," she said.

She managed to keep her home, but she's lost most of her independence. Each month, Donna sends her a debit card with $500 on it, to pay for food, prescriptions and gas -- soon to be 88, her mother still drives. The daughter still screens the mail and pays all the other bills.