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Police say man targeted elderly

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009

He’s charged in alleged door-to-door scam

A Spokane man suspected of scamming more than $100,000 from elderly people across the Northwest will appear in Yakima County Superior Court today.

James William Schmidt, 50, faces a first-degree theft charge in connection with what the Washington State Patrol describes as a door-to-door sales scam orchestrated by a traveling conman who likely has many more victims, including elderly people in Kootenai and Spokane counties.

U.S. marshals arrested Schmidt last month at a hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., where investigators suspect he gambled away stolen money.

He arrived Wednesday in Washington, where he’d been on the state’s most wanted list after a man told police in Yakima County that Schmidt had stolen money from him. The WSP says Schmidt sells vacuum cleaners and air filters door to door and solicits loans from people, telling them they’re investing in future franchises.

“But Schmidt would never return them, and the loans were never invested,” said Sgt. Ed McAvoy. “It’s depleted saving accounts. It’s extended credit card debt. It’s put some folks in some pretty tight financial situations.”

Schmidt has a third-degree theft conviction in King County in connection with a similar scam and is prohibited from door-to-door sales in Oregon by the state attorney general, according to the WSP.

Among Schmidt’s alleged victims is a Boise woman who police say lost $75,000 in stolen checks and fraudulent credit card purchases, the Idaho Statesman reported in January.

In that case, police believe Schmidt lived at a motel near Interstate 84 between August and December and scammed elderly people in the Treasure Valley and near Twin Falls.

He was last seen in December, shortly before an elderly woman’s family called Boise police.

Police think he was beginning a similar scam in New Jersey before he was arrested Jan. 28. WSP is scouring computer records that could reveal more victims, McAvoy said.

Meanwhile, investigators urge anyone who thinks they may have been victimized by Schmidt to contact them.

The WSP Criminal Investigation Division Detectives can be reached at (509) 249-6742 or (800) 283-7803.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or

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