Canadian man gets 10-year term in sweepstakes scheme

He used phone calls to bilk woman in Towson of $26,000

May 17, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

When she was told that she had won $250,000 in a Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes and that Ed McMahon was in the room with the caller, Kathryn Hurt thought it was her lucky day.

Prosecutors say the call was a part of a scheme that cost the 84-year-old Towson woman $26,000 and that an out-of-work Canadian actor who helped operate it was responsible.

Michael Filion, 20, of Montreal was given a 10-year sentence yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court after pleading guilty to felony theft charges.

Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. delayed the start of the sentence for one year so that he could earn money and begin repaying Hurt.

"We'll give him a year and see if he pays," Bollinger said.

Filion was arrested by Baltimore County police March 17 after he showed up at the retirement community where Hurt lives in hopes of collecting an additional $9,000 from Hurt, said Katie O'Malley, assistant state's attorney.

O'Malley said Filion worked with a group in Montreal that called elderly people and told them they had won cash prizes that they could collect only after wiring money to cover insurance and handling costs.

Filion contacted Hurt on Feb. 29 and persuaded her to wire money from her bank account, O'Malley said. In a series of calls over the next two weeks, Filion had Hurt wire $26,147 into his accounts, O'Malley said.

O'Malley said Filion was an unemployed actor with a polished routine.

"He would call her a lot, and he was very smooth and very convincing," O'Malley said.

Filion was arrested when he arrived at the retirement community in an attempt to collect more money from Hurt and staff members called police, O'Malley said.

Ludovic LaFrance, 23, also of Montreal, an alleged accomplice who accompanied Filion to Towson, is to be tried on felony theft charges June 13.

Hurt said yesterday that in their first conversation, a caller identified himself as "Mr. Miller" and told her that she had won a cash prize.

"He said, `Mrs. Hurt, I have a surprise for you. You have just won $250,000,' " Hurt said.

She was later told that the organization -- supposedly a branch of Reader's Digest and Publisher's Clearinghouse that turned out to be fake -- had held a drawing and that she had won $500,000.

"He talked about Ed McMahon being in the background, and he talked about Reader's Digest and Publishers Clearinghouse, and it sounded reliable," Hurt said.

Timothy Mahoney, a postal inspector in Boston who has investigated such fraud for the past year, said elderly people are being swindled out of "tens of millions of dollars."

Some victims have been promised $1 million in cash prizes and have been cheated out of more than $100,000. "They'll string you along to get as much money as possible, he said.

Hurt said yesterday that she doesn't know whether Filion will pay her back, but she said her case should serve as a warning to others.

"It's a lesson for people to watch out for all those pieces in the mail you get about winning big prizes," she said.

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