WESTLAKE, Ohio (WJW)– Two men accused of scamming thousands of dollars from people nationwide and in nearly a dozen Northeast Ohio communities are now behind bars.
Westlake police said the scheme unraveled after the men conned an elderly woman into thinking her grandson was involved in a deadly crash.
“We charged them for over $150,000 that we could piece together quickly. There’s probably much more,” said Westlake Police Cpt. Gerald Vogel.
Johnny Palmer and John Pla, both 25 and from Tampa, Florida, are accused of using a deadly accident in Summit County last Wednesday to con an 83-year-old Westlake woman out of $6,000.
Police said they called her on the phone and one pretended to be her grandson.
“He indicated that he had been involved in a serious accident out on Route 8, which happened to be in the news, and he needed bond money to get out of trouble,” Vogel said.
Westlake police said one man posed as a courier and drove to the woman’s home in a U-Haul to pick up the cash. Cameras in the area captured video of the truck, which had a camel painted on the side. Those images were sent to other local police departments.
“Off-duty police officer downtown, working a job at downtown Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, noticed a U-Haul with a camel on it… Some people happened to be around the U-Haul when we started surveilling it and two males ended up being taken into custody,” Vogel said.
Westlake police said when they arrested the two men Saturday, detectives discovered a stolen firearm and more.
“We found airline tickets, we found a lot of receipts. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any cash yet,” he said.
Police said this scheme went well beyond Westlake. This pair is accused of scamming people all across Northeast Ohio and other places across the U-S.
“Geauga County, Macedonia, Fairview Park police departments, Mentor, North Olmsted, Brecksville, Russell Township, Wickliffe, Gates Mills and Perry in Ohio,” Vogel said.
Detectives said police also want to speak with the suspects in Racine, Wisconsin, as well as Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa.
Police said if anyone is asking for large sums of money, be sure to verify their story or call police.
“The lady who fell victim to this, she saw that news story, she knew that part was real… Not thinking ahead that maybe, the rest of it wasn’t real as well,” Vogel said.
Both men appeared in Rocky River Municipal Court Tuesday, where bond was set at $100,000 for one of them and $200,000 for the other. They are both being held inside the Cuyahoga County Jail.
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