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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: schemes

Spokane man convicted of $700k fraud

A federal jury convicted a Spokane man of 20 felonies Thursday for a scheme that cost a Coeur d'Alene woman her high-end riverside home.

Samuel Thomas Geren Jones, 31, faces up to 20 years in prison for each of 19 wire fraud counts when he's sentenced Oct. 5, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He's allowed to stay out of jail until sentencing.

Jones was convicted of the wire fraud and one count of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises after a seven-day trial in U.S. District Court.

Jones' co-defendant, Travis “T.J.” Sneed, a former Washington legislative candidate and aide to Jim West, was sentenced last August to about five years in prison.

Sneed, (pictured) who had solicited fraudulent letters of support to present at his sentencing, also is to be on probation for three years, perform 320 hours of community service and pay about $732,000 in restitution. That’s the amount of money loaned to Sneed using victim Dawn Forest’s home as collateral.

“I’ll never see any of it,” Forest said at Sneed's sentencing.

Sneed, 29, is serving his 63-month sentence at a federal prison in Colordao. He testified at Jones' trial.

The scheme developed when Forest allowed Sneed and Jones, who were in a romantic relationship, to live in the basement of her home on South Canal Street along the Spokane River and take out a loan on her mortgage. Forest said she learned her home was being foreclosed by reading the newspaper. Sneed and Jones also bilked three people of about $165,000 by selling them products via the Internet that they never received.

Jones and Sneed were indicted in July 2010.

“This jury's verdict sends the strong message that those who bilk trusting investors will be caught and punished,” Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said in a prepared statement.  “In these difficult economic times, fraud schemes pose an even greater threat to our communities.  I commend the hard and thorough work of FBI Special Agent Bryant Gunnerson, prosecutor Nancy Cook and the many others who brought these two men to justice.”

Con man stole $2.25M from investors

A Spokane con man had such a good sales pitch that he convinced a physician and a lawyer to take part in his get-rich quick schemes. In the end, some 10 investors lost more than $2.25 million they threw at his false promises.

Robert B. Hiatt, 57, pleaded guilty Thursday to eight felony fraud counts and a single count of intimidating a witness after he threatened to kill a whistleblower. Hiatt’s wide-ranging scheme promised huge returns on investments that never existed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin said.

Read the rest of the story here.

Rogue lumber employee guilty in fraud

An unauthorized sales agreement between a rogue North Idaho lumber employee and a Spokane company has led to a felony conviction in federal court.

Trevor Mokry, 32, received about $581,000 from The Pallet Place for lumber he sold them from Stimson Lumber Company in Plummer, Idaho, but he didn't have permission to sell the wood and never gave his employer the money.

Mokry, who was responsible for loading and unloading trucks in the lumber yard, admitted to selling the lumber to the company between June 2007 and June 2011, the U.S. Attorney's Office said today.

An employee with Pallet Place drove from Spokane to Plummer to pick up the lumber and give Mokry checks.
Mokry's scheme unraveled June 1 when another employee saw him receive a check for $4,666 from a Pallet Place driver.

Employees noticed that Pallet Place did not appear as a costumer in Stimson's bill records, so they traveled to the Spokane Valley headquarters, where they saw about $200,000 in Stimson lumber.

“Pallet Place was paying Mokry sixty percent or less of Stimson's retail price for the stolen wood products, plus $200 per order,” according to court documents.

Mokry was fired June 2. He pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to aiding the transportation of stolen goods.

Mokry faces restitution of $581,445.24 when he's sentenced, which is scheduled for July 16. He also faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years probation.

‘Grandparents scam’ costs man $20k

Authorities are again warning of the “grandparents scam” after a north Spokane County man wired nearly $20,000 to Peru.

The man said he received a call about 10 a.m. Tuesday from a man he thought was his grandson. The caller said he needed $2,400 to get out of jail and that if he wired the money to Lima, Peru, they would avoid a two-day waiting period, according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.

He did so, and the man called again saying the judge increased bail and he needed $6,250. She transferred that money, then transferred another $6,250 upon request.

The man called again Wednesday about 9:30 a.m. and asked for $4,800 to pay lawyer fees. The victim transferred the money, but he refused another request for money that afternoon and called the sheriff's office.

It turns out the man was not his grandson.

The sheriff's office released the phone numbers the man called from today as part of a warning to the public:  438-998-6142, 514-458-3080, 438-993-6948, 438-998-6142

Similar scams were reported in spring 2010, December 2010 and in fall 2009. Anyone with an elderly relative should warn them of the scam.

Valley woman, 84, scammed of $1,500

An elderly Spokane Valley woman lost nearly $1,500 this year to a con man who claimed she'd won a new car.

The Spokane Valley Police Department is reminding people to talk with their elderly parents about phone, mail and email scams after the 84-year-old woman's daughter reported the fraud to Crime Check and said the thief calls her mother daily seeking more money.

The victim sent $1,475 to an address in Jamaica in March after a caller claiming to represent Morgan Stanley International told her she had won a new car and only had to pay them sales tax to collect it, Sgt. Dave Reagan said.

Reagan said such swindles “are nearly impossible to investigates and prosecute” because the culprits typically live outside the country.

He said people with elderly relatives “should insist that elders discuss with them any contest, lottery or other prize offers before sending any money for “taxes,”  “border fees” or other claims of money owed.”

Con artist sought fake support letters

A former Washington legislative candidate and convicted conman will spend five years in prison for scheme that bilked a Coeur d’Alene woman out of her high-end riverside home and drew the wrath of a federal judge.

“I think the bottom line in all reality is that you’re a con artist,” U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said to Travis “T.J.” Sneed (pictured) before sentencing him Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene to 63 months in prison. “You say one thing and you do something different. And it’s not a one time situation.”

Sneed’s sentence was higher than a plea agreement originally called for because federal prosecutors discovered a scheme by Sneed to solicit fraudulent character-witness statements to submit at sentencing. Sneed offered another man $1 for each letter and said he wanted 150 letters, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Cook.

“When we leave this world, the only thing that we really take with us is our reputation - good or bad,” Lodge told Sneed. “If you were to die today you would be seen as a con artist.”

Sneed, 28, pleaded guilty in March to three counts of wire fraud and one count of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises.

Codefendant Samuel Thomas Geren Jones is awaiting trial on similar charges.

Sneed is to be on probation for three years, perform 320 hours in community service and pay about $732,000 in restitution. That’s the amount of money loaned to Sneed using victim Dawn Forest’s home as collateral.

“I’ll never see any of it,” Forest said. But she takes comfort in knowing that “for five-plus years he won’t be able to do this to anybody else.”

Forest allowed Sneed and Jones, who were in a romantic relationship, to live in the basement of her home on South Canal Street along the Spokane River and take out a loan on her mortgage. She learned her home was being foreclosed by reading the newspaper, she said.  Sneed also bilked three people of about $165,000 by selling them products via the Internet that he never gave them.

His lawyer, Sean Walsh, said it was an effort to try to repay Forest.

“In effect what we have here is an unintended Ponzi scheme,” Walsh said. “Mr. Sneed admits he was incompetent in business and that this project failed,” Walsh said.

Sneed, an Eagle Scout and former aide to late Spokane Mayor Jim West, apologized Tuesday and said he never meant to defraud anyone.

Sneed has previous federal convictions for wire fraud that resulted in an 18-month prison sentence in July 2005. The scheme was similar - federal investigators said he swindled more than $125,000 from Internet customers.

He was indicted in 2004 while campaigning as a Republican candidate for the state House from Spokane’s 3rd District.

Sneed still has unresolved charges in Spokane County that allege he used a pilfered bank account number to cash nearly $3,000 in checks.

“He learned nothing from his previous time in jail,” Cook said Tuesday.

Scheme promised to harness lightning

A Spokane man who claimed to have invented a computer chip that could capture energy from lightning strikes is set to ask for his relese from jail today on federal charges that he defrauded investors of more than $2.5 million.

Robert B. Hiatt, 65, presented himself to investors for a decade as a successful inventor and businessman, according to the indictment on three counts of wire fraud returned Wednesday by a grand jury.

Hiatt pleaded not guilty Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno. Hiatt claimed to have inside tracks to contracts with major companies and solicited investors using front companies that looked real, according to the indictment.  A bail hearing is set today before Imbrogno.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Bank swindler faces new fraud charges

A convicted bank swindler who boldly walked out of a federal courtroom in Spokane three years ago to avoid arrest is back in jail, accused of another scheme.

John Earl Petersen, the key figure in the collapse of a Montana bank more than a decade ago, is accused of stealing nearly $170,000 from a brother and sister in 2006 after telling them they would receive $100 million in return.

Petersen is being held without bail at the Spokane County Jail. He’s pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion and is to stand trial in May, U.S. District Judge Edward Shea ruled recently.

It’s the latest for an admitted con man and frequent Las Vegas gambler who had a business office in Spokane when he was arrested in 1998, accused of masterminding the $10.5 million collapse of Montana Bank of Whitefish, Mont. Read the rest of my story here.

Petersen is pictured at the very top in 1997, and at the top left in 2008.

Past coverage:

Feb. 1, 1998: Agent paints Petersen as loan-sharking mobster

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