Con-trary to Belief, East Siders Do Part With Their Money
If one were a con artist, he or she-or he and she (they often work in teams)-might consider the Upper East Side a metropolitan Disneyland, given the high net worth of its inhabitants. However, those upon whom con artists typically prey tend to be the young and naïve, the old and befuddled, or recent immigrants rather than the neighborhood’s millionaires and billionaires, who apparently prefer to lose their wealth to their portfolio managers.
One such scam-fraudulent accosting on the street, that is, not the sort where your stockbroker at Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch squanders your inheritance on shares in Vladimir Putin health clubs in Siberia-occurred on July 29, when a man described as around 40 approached a 22-year-old Brooklyn resident on 68th Street and Lexington Avenue shortly before noon.
The fast-talking con man asked her help in donating money to a charity. While a more savvy New Yorker wouldn’t have even broken stride, this obviously kind-hearted young lady stopped to listen. A moment later, they were joined by a female passerby who was actually the man’s accomplice and who offered to “help” as well.
The con artist explained that he had a 3 p.m. flight to catch but, philanthropist that he was, wanted to entrust his contribution to the women so that they might deliver it into the hands of a worthy not-for-profit.
What made this scam out of the ordinary is that there was apparently nothing in it for the young victim except the satisfaction one gets from doing good. Greed on the victim’s part is usually what motivates them to enter into these sorts of surreal relationships with strangers they meet on the street.
The con man’s female accomplice volunteered to withdraw cash from her A.T.M. to show that she could be trusted with his money, and encouraged the young woman to do the same. The victim agreed, and the two of them visited the Citibank branch at 86th Street off Lexington Avenue. The Good Samaritan withdrew $1,500 from her account, and the other woman, described as being around 43 years old, went through the motions of doing the same.
The victim then handed her money over to the con man, who appeared to place it with the other woman’s money in a black bag for safekeeping. (The perps will often show their targets a seemingly impressive wad of cash consisting of, for example, a real $20 bill on the top and bottom and worthless photocopied currency in between.)
At that point, the con man announced that he had to leave to get his passport. Unsurprisingly, his partner in crime said she’d go with him to help. The two of them departed, never to return, leaving the young woman holding the bag in more ways than one. The money the other woman made believe she’d taken out of the bank, not to mention the man’s charitable contribution, was worthless paper. In the meantime, they’d absconded with her $1,500.
A few weeks earlier, another con artist who approached senior citizens at the 78th Street and Lexington Avenue bus stop and engaged them in conversation didn’t get off as lightly.
His behavior might not have appeared especially suspicious to a civilian. But the 19th Precinct grand-larceny team, which happened to be trolling the area in search of excitement, immediately spotted the impostor.
“He has a briefcase,” Sergeant Benny Carbone, the team’s leader, recalled of the July 3 incident. “As the buses came and went, he’d go up to the old people and tell them he has these lottery tickets he’d like to cash, but he’s not a citizen, he’s from Jamaica.”
Apparently he wasn’t very persuasive. “After they heard something they didn’t like, they’d walk away,” Sergeant Carbone continued, referring to the seniors. “We’d follow them a block and ask them, ‘What did he say to you, ma’am?’ She would be so upset she wouldn’t talk to us. We watched him and watched him.
“One woman, he opened up this briefcase to show her something, and right away we knew from experience he was trying to do the con game.”
But at approximately the same time that the cops made the con man, he also made them, and started walking away up 77th Street, past Lenox Hill Hospital. Police Officer Sal Catapano stopped him and asked for a word.
“He said, ‘I’m not doing nothing,'” Sergeant Carbone recalled. “We said, ‘What’s in the bag?’ He said, ‘Nothing.’ Sal said, ‘Let me look’-and boom!”
The cops said they’d discovered a veritable traveling office for grifters. “He had old lottery tickets, bank deposit envelopes, bank bags-all the con material,” Sergeant Carbone went on. “There were three or four cons in that bag.”
The police arrested their suspect, a 51-year-old upper Manhattan resident, for fraudulent accosting. “He had some type of accent when he talked to them,” a Jamaican accent, Sergeant Carbone said, referring to the man’s approach to his elderly would-be marks. “But when he talked to me, he was straight. He’s a ventriloquist.”
Once they got him to the station house and ran his name through the computer, the cops discovered that their prisoner had been arrested four previous times for the same crime. He spent 15 days in the system on the grand-larceny unit’s July 3 arrest, but was out in time to make him a suspect in the July 29 case involving the young woman bilked out of $1,500; that, however, remains under investigation.
Investigators believe the crook might well have committed the latter crime, even though there are a couple of other con artists currently working the area, since he’s been known to get creative and could easily have come up with his philanthropist ruse on the spot, as he allegedly boasted to the police. “He said it depends on the victim, when he talks to them, what kind of con he’s going to use,” Officer Catapano explained.