Charity tries to catch impostor Director chases woman suspected of seeking donations

March 27, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The director of the Grant-A-Wish Foundation, frustrated with police inattention to complaints about a woman fraudulently soliciting donations door to door in South Baltimore and northern Anne Arundel County, went out and chased the suspected con artist this week.

The Baltimore-based national nonprofit organization received six calls about a woman asking elderly people for funds in the foundation's name. Volunteers went out looking for her. Director Brian Morrison ran into a woman who fit the con artist's description Tuesday and chased her 15 blocks through Glen Burnie until she jumped into the cab of a commercial truck and got away from him.

The foundation, which does not ask for money door to door, has had trouble over its 16 years with impostors using its name to rake in money, and none has been caught. Finding this woman had become something of a mission, Morrison said. The group provides wishes such as celebrity visits and trips for children with life-threatening illnesses.

The organization first complained to the Baltimore police last week but was told that the woman might be working out of Baltimore's jurisdiction. Anne Arundel police said the same thing but assigned an officer to the case after the chase Tuesday.

"The very sad thing about this is that she has been targeting mostly older people and most of them gave her money," Morrison said. "It's extremely frustrating."

Casey Wollenweber, coordinator of the Grant-A-Wish Project, who has been handling most of the callers, said the woman apparently tells her victims that her child died of an illness recently and that she is collecting money to try to give back to the foundation. Most of the victims said the woman appeared to be in her 30s and had red hair.

Residents call

Morrison went out looking for the woman Monday in Brooklyn Park after a resident called, but he didn't spot her. Tuesday, after two people called to say the woman was working the streets in Glen Burnie, Morrison and one of the volunteers headed out. Within a few minutes, they saw a woman with red hair walking from one house to another.

"We approached her, and I said, 'I understand you are soliciting funds for Grant-A-Wish Foundation,' " Morrison said. "She said, 'No, I'm just walking home.' "

Morrison said he asked her again and that the woman said she had been collecting money door to door. The woman then asked Morrison whether he worked for the foundation, and when he told her he did, she ran, Morrison said.

After following her a short distance, Morrison said, he and the volunteer chased her in the car until they reached an intersection at Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard where the woman hopped into the cab of a truck. The truck left. He called police on his cellular phone during the chase, but officers were unable to get there in time.

Police investigate

The woman dropped a black bag, which police said contained a change-of-address card. They are investigating the address to determine whether the woman lives there.

Police spokesman Carol Frye said complaints about fraudulent collecting of money door to door are relatively rare in the county compared with the number of complaints about fraudulent telephone solicitations.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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