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

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And once they were marked, the scammers proceeded to "reload" them.

You've won this multimillion-dollar lottery, they'd say. All you need to do is send us the money to cover the taxes, and we'll send you your prize.

So on Dec. 8, 2004, Miriam Parker -- then 80 -- drove herself to the Wal-Mart down the road to send a MoneyGram to Montreal, Quebec.

And so, over a series of calls, Howard Clark -- a man with a warm voice who called her "dear" and "sweetheart" -- had learned enough personal information about Miriam to convince her that he was the family's ticket to riches.

After her Dec. 8 MoneyGram, other wires followed on Dec. 13 and 16.

On Jan. 12, 2005, she sent a Federal Express package to a "Mr. Stewart" on Papineau Street in Montreal. Inside, as instructed, was a magazine with $12,550 in cash sandwiched between its pages.

The Parkers had quickly become what authorities refer to as "super victims."

Though trusting, Miriam asked Howard repeatedly when they would receive their winnings. One day, he called to say he was on his way to deliver the prize in person -- only to call back to say he'd been detained at the border, and that he needed her to send $200 so he could defray things. She sent him the money.

She can't remember whether it was in a phone call or a note. But Howard told her that she'd been "hired" by the Canadian sweepstakes company.

On May 5, 2005, a package from Bloomingdale, N.J., containing $8,275 in cash arrived at the Parkers' home. It was followed five days later by a FedEx packet with $10,000, then three days after that by an envelope stuffed with $25,000.

In just over one week, Miriam Parker would receive and repackage $60,000 in cash for delivery to Mr. Stewart of Papineau Street, Montreal.

Having the money hopscotch from one victim to another complicates things for would-be investigators.

Sometimes, there would be two stacks of bills, one much thicker than the other, tucked into magazines. The smaller pile was Miriam Parker's "commission."

If someone sent her a check, she was to convert it to cash and send that along, Howard said -- and she wasn't to tell her children about their dealings.

When the kids finally persuaded their mother to get a credit report, the news was jaw-dropping. Their thrifty parents were nearly $200,000 in debt.

Miriam Parker insisted that their ship was about to come in, and that she would soon repay all the loans. So Donna gave her a deadline.

The money, of course, did not come. It was time to get authorities involved.

Raleigh police told Donna there was nothing they could do unless the perpetrators were local, and so she went to the state Attorney General's Elder Fraud Unit. Around that same time, Donna received a call from the FBI -- her parents had popped up on their radar in connection with another case.

It became apparent to authorities that the Parkers weren't truly willing participants in the scam. So they staged the December family intervention.

That kitchen-table gathering ended promisingly, with Miriam assuring Fleming and Evers that she would not forward any more packages. Charles told them he felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted.

But a frantic phone call a couple of weeks later dashed those hopes.

"They're going to turn the gas off," her mother told her on a day with temperatures forecast to plunge into the 20s. Calling the utility company, Donna learned that her parents owed more than $900.

Next it was the electricity. Then the water. Eventually, the children were having to buy their parents' groceries.

Even then, Miriam remained convinced that Clark was her friend. At one point, she invited him to the family's mountain retreat to meet her kids. The Parker siblings sardonically referred to him as "our other brother Howard."

And the envelopes just kept coming -- from San Jose and Hayward in California, from East Liberty, Ohio.

In April 2006, Jim Parker and his wife Susan came to town for Donna's wedding. They were sitting in his parents' kitchen when the doorbell rang.

The FedEx driver handed Jim a crinkly envelope. From the outline, he knew without opening it what was inside. He sneaked downstairs to his old bedroom, pulled out a business card with a gold seal on it and dialed the number.

"I've got this package," he said. "What do you want me to do with it?"

He and David Kirkman, manager of the Elder Fraud Prevention Project in the AG's office, met at a gas station. When authorities opened the envelope, they found an old issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. It contained $5,725 in cash from a Visalia, Calif., widow.

Kirkman called a contact at Federal Express, who ordered a stop on deliveries and pickups at the Parker home.

But the crooks just switched to United Parcel Service.

And now, in addition to money, they were delivering and picking up car tires and custom rims, and laptop computers worth thousands of dollars -- all purchased by other elderly victims.

That's when state and federal authorities reached out to their counterparts north of the border.

The FBI subpoenaed records from the courier services Miriam Parker was using and found the address in Montreal. On Aug. 2, 2006, officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Surete du Quebec paid the occupant a visit.

Dave Stewart acknowledged accepting numerous packages from the American lady on behalf of a man whom he knew as "Roger." Stewart, a native of Jamaica, said he was paid $100 per package.

In all, Miriam Parker had shipped 119 packages totaling more than $606,000 to Stewart. Professing ignorance of any illegal activity, Stewart agreed to cooperate.

Howard, meanwhile, gave Miriam a new address to which she should forward items.

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