Fort Worth police search for victims in church scam

Posted Friday, Aug. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information How To Help Others who may have been contacted by the suspect are asked to call Detectives A.L. Fincher at 817-392-4451 or P.T. Blauser at 817-392-4559 with the Fort Worth Police Department’s economic crimes unit.

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Police are trying to track down victims of a man using a hard-luck story to steal money from area churches with the promise of receiving cash from his late mother’s will.

Fort Worth police believe the man has recently preyed on 10 Tarrant County area churches and may have been running a similar scam in the area as early as 2005.

So far, police believe the man has scammed close to $5,000.

“A lot of the people meeting with him and giving him money are pastors,” said economic crimes Detective A.L. Fincher. “They’re more likely to want to believe in the good of people and want to help people.”

Police have identified a suspect — described as a white male in his early 60s with a criminal history that includes fraud — but Fincher said detectives are waiting to arrest the man while while investigators continue to look for other potential victims. Police have not released the suspect’s name.

Fincher said that in the scam, a man typically identifying himself as Dan Reed and a Wichita Falls attorney, calls the church and tells employees that he is representing a man, Larry Wainwright, whose mother has died and left money to the church in her will.

“Supposedly the church has either helped her in the past or prayed for her in the past,” Fincher said.

But Wainwright, the attorney tells the church employee, has fallen on hard times. He has cancer and can’t afford his medication, food or rent.

The employee is given Wainwright’s number and encouraged to lend the ill man money until the will can be probated and the money repaid.

“Every victim we’ve talked to said, ‘We normally will not give people cash but but because his story was so compelling, we decided to go ahead and give him the cash,’” Fincher said.

‘That’s what our ministry does’

A 70-year-old Fort Worth man said he was scammed for $2,900 out of his own pocket after “attorney Dan Reed” called the secretary of his Fort Worth Catholic church in early July, claiming that the church had been named in the will of one of his client’s mother.

The secretary forwarded the message to the 70-year-old, who manages a social services outreach program.

“He told her that somebody at our church had helped the client’s mother and they wanted to give the gift to the right parties,” said the program manager, who asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted in future scams. “Since I’m kind of in the business of helping people — that’s what our ministry does — she just assumed it must have been one of my people that helped her.”

The program manager said when he called Reed back, the lawyer explained that the mother of his client had left the church $15,000.

“He worked his way very quickly to the point where his client was not in good health,” the program manager said.

The attorney told the program manager that Wainwright had throat and mouth cancer, among other medical problem, and was living in a run-down motel in Fort Worth in need of immediate nursing and medical care. Both the lawyer and the man called Wainwright pleaded with the program manager to lend Wainwright money to “get him by” until the upcoming probate hearing, at which time he would be repaid.

The program manager said he met with Wainwright at the downtown public library and gave him $200 of his own money.

But the requests for money kept coming, the program manager said, and in four subsequent meetings at different locations, he gave Wainwright another $2,700. The program manager said at one point, a man identifying himself as Wainwright’s nurse called, lending credibility to the story.

“To … just hand somebody some money, a lot of people wouldn’t do something like that. They’d never even give it a second thought. They’d tell this guy to fly a kite,” the program manager said. “But if I think it’s legitimate the need is sincere, then I’ll do something.”

Despite the constant pressure from Wainwright and the attorney to keep lending money, the program manager said he ran out of cash and trust in the duo and alerted law enforcement.

‘He will not take checks’

Police believe only one suspect with multiple phones was behind all the phone calls.

“If he was all three people, he does a really good job with voice impressions and changing what he sounds like,” the program manager said.

Fincher said the man appears to pick churches randomly in the Tarrant County area, including Burleson, Watauga and Weatherford. The meetings to pick up money happen in or near downtown Fort Worth, she said.

“He will not take checks. He will come up with all sorts of excuses why he can’t take checks,” Fincher said.

Currently, the suspect could be charged with theft by deception, a state felony that is enhanced to a third-degree felony because the victims include one elderly person and non-profit organizations. If investigators can uncover additional victims, the degree of the offense could rise further depending on the total amount of money allegedly stolen, Fincher said.

The program manager said he won’t let the scam leave him jaded in regard to helping others.

“Getting somebody off the street is worth $2,900 to me if this guy can’t do it to anyone else again,” he said.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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