Dundalk woman pleads guilty in fraud scheme

Nearly $34,000 was stolen from five elderly women

October 17, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A woman pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday to stealing nearly $34,000 from five elderly women by scaring them into thinking they had to give her money or face losing their health care or electricity.

Dundalk resident Vaneka Powers, 22, pleaded guilty yesterday to five counts of continuing theft scheme, which included bilking almost $25,000 from a 75-year-old woman shortly before her death, according to prosecutors.

"These were sweet, salt-of-the-earth people," said Assistant State's Attorney Isabel Mercedes Cumming, who prosecuted the case.

In a scheme that began in April 1998, Powers, who did not have a job, used the phone book to find victims. Her method was simple: She called a home and would speak only if an elderly person answered, Cumming said.

She claimed to be an employee of either Medicare or Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and informed victims that their benefits or utilities would be cut off unless they gave her cash, according to prosecutors. Powers would then either pick up the money from victims at their homes or send her 14-year-old sister.

In December 2000, the scheme latched onto 69-year-old Berlise Mason, who ended up losing about $3,000 to Powers just days before Mason was to have an operation to remove a spreading cancer.

Powers "called me and said to cover my insurance, I had to put up $1,900 or I wouldn't get the operation," Mason said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Mason told Powers she didn't have all the money, but had about $1,000 in cash in the house. Powers went by and picked up the money.

Later that day, Powers called Mason back and said she still owed $1,900 to Medicare. Powers persuaded Mason to withdraw $2,000 from the bank. Powers then picked up the second installment.

It eventually dawned on Mason that she had been the victim of a scheme, prompting her to call her son, who called police.

According to the plea agreement, Powers faces up to two years in prison followed by five years' probation, and must make restitution payments.

She is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 3 before Judge Thomas E. Noel.

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