Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Queens Woman, 78, Trips Up 'Empty Wallet' Grifters by Going to Cops by Thomas Zambito - NY Daily News

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Two con artists preying on the elderly with the age-old "found wallet" scam were nabbed with the help of a 78-year-old Queens woman, authorities said Wednesday.

Looking for marks on Queens Blvd., the grifters left a wallet that appeared to be stuffed with cash on the sidewalk last month.

The sharp-eyed senior was walking to a bookstore when she saw the wallet - and was accosted by two men who opened it and claimed it held $300,000.

Also inside was a note that read: "We hit it big in the third race. Give mom five or ten thousand. I'm going to Iraq."

"There appeared to be a lot of cash in there and a note that led me to believe it had something to do with terrorism," the woman told the Daily News.

"I said, 'Let's go to the police.'"

One of the suspects, Hiram Whitener, 69, of Spartanburg, S.C., claimed to be a lawyer and suggested they go to his boss' office to discuss what to do, officials said.

He and Charlet Merrit, 56, of Manhattan allegedly drove the woman there - apparently hoping to convince her they would split the cash if she gave them a "good faith" deposit.

"It's a frightening episode," the senior said. "The way he put it was that if we share the money, we'll have to put it in an escrow.... I told him I don't have any money."

The woman left and called cops, who picked up the duo a few hours later while they were trying to swindle another older woman, prosecutors said.

They are charged with just one con, but three others are accused of hoodwinking a dozen victims out of $62,500 with a similar scam.

Gullible immigrants and seniors turned over $1,000 to $11,000 in exchange for some of the proceeds from a bag or wallet stuffed with phony bills - but all they got was shredded newspaper.

Arrested in that scheme were Paula Sandy, 53, of the Bronx and Myles Riles, 62, and Etta Washington, 59, both of Birmingham, Ala.

"This case must serve as a warning to the public that people should always be suspicious of any financial scheme that requires them to turn over their money to a complete stranger on short notice," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.