An 83-year-old Westlake woman thought she was helping her grandson. Instead, she may be out $6,000.
Police investigating what they say was a criminal scam ended up arresting two men, John Tyler Pla and Johnny Lee Palmer. Both are 25 and live in Tampa, Florida. Officials believe the duo were involved in fleecing seniors in at least 10 Northeast Ohio cases. They also may have pulled off schemes in Des Moines, Iowa, and Racine, Wisconsin.
Investigators estimate the suspects scammed over $150,000 from various victims. They are charged with second-degree felony theft.
For Westlake law enforcement, the story began when a woman walked into the police department Aug. 26 claiming to be the victim of a con job that cost her a large amount of money. She told officers a male claiming to be her grandson called Aug. 25 saying he was at fault in a bad traffic accident and needed legal help.
The supposed grandson handed the phone to a second man, who said he was a public defender. He told the woman her grandson needed money to pay the court and get out of trouble.
The duo talked the woman into withdrawing cash from her bank. They tried to talk her into driving to Cleveland to deliver the money. When she declined, the fake lawyer relayed his firm just happened to have a courier in the area who could pick up the money.
The men warned the woman not to tell anyone about the payment as there was a gag order on the case, claiming she could get into trouble if she talked about her grandson’s accident. The victim said after an unspecified amount of time following the phone calls, a man pulled in front of her house in a 10-foot U-Haul truck. The woman described the man as being very polite as he collected the money before driving away.
The woman told authorities she handed the U-Haul driver $6,000 in cash, said police Capt. Gerald Vogel.
Investigators followed up on the incident using surveillance video from various locations around the victim’s home. Those cameras showed the U-Haul involved in the incident had a camel painted on its side.
Avon Lake officials also reported comparing notes with other area police departments investigating similar crimes in their jurisdictions.
Westlake detectives received a tip Aug. 29 that a U-Haul matching the description of the suspect vehicle was parked in a lot in downtown Cleveland. Officials confronted and ultimately arrested Pla and Palmer, who they said approached the U-Haul and another vehicle they believe the perpetrators used in the theft.
“We are pretty happy we arrested two for the scam,” Vogel said. “We don’t get to bring justice to many of today’s scammers and the victim feels much better now that they are identified and in custody.”
Both suspects were arraigned in Rocky River Municipal Court Sept.1. Both waived their right to a preliminary hearing and their cases were bound over to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, which handles felony cases.
The Rocky River clerk of courts office said Palmer’s bail was set at $100,000 and Pla’s at $200,000. Both were still in jail at presstime. According to the common pleas court website, both were scheduled for an initial hearing in that court Friday.
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