Even after detectives say she was ripped off of more than $7,000, a Yakima woman told them she was still satisfied with the vacuum cleaner she bought from a convicted scam artist.
The 80-year-old woman is among more than a half-dozen victims or possible victims – including elderly people in Kootenai and Spokane counties – that authorities believe may have been taken in by a smooth-talking man whose own father said, “He could and would probably sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo who doesn’t have electricity,” according to a report by the Washington State Patrol.
James “Jim” William Schmidt, 50, is being held at the Yakima County jail on $100,000 bail after being arraigned Thursday on a first-degree theft charge.
Prosecutors filed the charge against him in December, and an East Coast fugitive task force arrested him late last month in Atlantic City, N.J., after following leads from people he had contacted.
Patrol detectives suspect that he was on the verge of relaunching his sales efforts as the money from past deals ran out, Sgt. Ed McAvoy said Thursday.
Schmidt allegedly took more than $100,000 from victims across Washington and Idaho, but investigators are still reviewing records on his computer to total the losses and identify potential victims, McAvoy said.
He was already banned from door-to-door sales in Oregon, and he pleaded guilty to third-degree theft in King County in January 2008.
In that case, he called a woman to say she had won some cans of soup, then showed up at her house to demonstrate a vacuum cleaner, according to an Auburn police report. He later “borrowed” about $43,000 from her.
As part of his plea, he agreed not to accept loans or other money from sales contacts for 24 months.
Detectives say he consistently targets elderly or vulnerable people with an offer to sell them a vacuum cleaner or air cleaner.
In the Yakima case, he sold the woman and her since-deceased husband a vacuum cleaner for $2,463.23 in June 2008, according to the police report.
A companion of Schmidt’s had first called and asked for them to let a salesman stop by to show the vacuum; for their time, he would give them cans of soup or a two-pound ham.
A week later, he returned and gave them a pitch that he needed $5,000 to open a sales franchise in Yakima, detectives said. He agreed to return the investment, as well as the vacuum’s purchase price.
After they gave him the money, the couple eventually lost contact with Schmidt.
The couple’s daughter questioned the bank withdrawal while reviewing her parent’s finances following her father’s death, prompting the report to the patrol.