Con games are limited almost only by the imaginations of the guys who try to pull them off, Assistant District Attorney Mark Winter told Northeast residents last week.
They do it all — from passing bad checks to defrauding the educational institutions that employ them, he said during a special workshop session of the 2nd Police District Advisory Council at the Philadelphia Protestant Home on Tabor Avenue.
Often, the victims of con games fall prey to their own greed, but a new one that’s surfaced in Philly a few years ago targets people who are about to lose their homes and relies instead on desperation, Winter said.
In one example of that kind of case, Winter said later last week, a Parkwood man allegedly took thousands of dollars from two people, supposedly to save their homes, but did nothing for them.
James Jordan of Gurley Road was arrested in mid-2009, Winter said. The allegations are that Jordan charged the two $1,500 to $3,000 upfront, Winter said, and, in one case, he allegedly collected monthly payments. One victim’s loss allegedly was $15,000, Winter said.
Jordan, 40, has been free on bail since his arrest in June 2009. His trial will begin at the end of May 2012. The charges against him include theft by deception, receiving stolen property and theft by unlawful taking.
Winter, who works in the district attorney’s economic crime and cyber crime unit, was among several assistant district attorneys who spoke to Northeast residents during the PDAC’s Oct. 11 session.
Identity theft is a recurring problem that can take many forms, he said. For example, a criminal who finds out your name and Social Security number can use that information to open up credit card accounts and ruin your credit.
Winter advised residents to shred unneeded documents, to keep records in safe places in their homes and to not keep Social Security cards in their wallets.
“Stealing” houses is another scam that is prevalent and very hard on legitimate property owners. Properties are stolen by thieves who forge deeds, get them notarized and file them with the city’s Department of Records.
Typically, the criminal who forges the deed can be prosecuted if caught, but if he sold the property to someone else, the burden is on the legitimate owner to recover the property. That can take a lot of time and expense, he said.
“The judge in criminal court doesn’t have the authority to put the house back in your name,” Winter said. “Determining who is the rightful owner must be done in civil court.”
Earlier during the Oct. 11 session at the Protestant Home, District Attorney Seth Williams introduced Winter and ADAs Beth Grossman, Matt Mueller and Mark Gilson.
Gilson is in charge of prosecuting most crimes that take place in the Northeast, Williams said. The DA had campaigned on a plan to concentrate how crimes other than murder and sex offenses are handled by assigning ADAs to specific parts of the city. The plan is built on the structure of the city’s police divisions, so the same ADAs that begin a case from the Northeast Division stay with it from start to finish, Williams and Gilson said.
Grossman, chief of the public nuisance task force, explained her unit goes after properties that are used for crimes. The people who live nearby, she said, are the collateral victims of crime.
Anyone who lives near drug dealers or people engaged in other crimes might feel like a prisoner in his or her home.
The majority of what the task force does, she said, is to take over properties used in drug sales. The easy part of that process is that the unit can go after a property after a drug arrest. If the drug dealer owns the property, he might lose it. The DA’s office sells such properties at auction twice a year. If a property is rented, the forfeiture petition prompts the landlord to push out a bad tenant, she said.
The DA’s office maintains a 24-hour hot line, 215-686-5858. Callers can complain about nuisance properties anonymously, Grossman said. Callers should give as much detail as they can, but the most important piece of information is an exact address, she said.
“The more detail we have,” Grossman said, “the better it is to put together an undercover operation.”
Under the forfeiture statute, Grossman added, if an enormous amount of drugs or weapons are involved, the task force can get the property quickly sealed while litigation is proceeding.
Those who call the hot line don’t have to go to court.
“We never need anyone to testify,” she said. “It can all be done with narcotics officers’ testimony.”
Mueller goes after nuisance bars and also said people who live near establishments with liquor licenses should call the task force hotline if they continually see crimes at those places.
There are plenty of actions that violate the state’s liquor code as well as local ordinances, Mueller said. Underage drinking is a serious violation, but even loud music and staying open late are violations, he said.
Liquor licenses must renewed every two years, Mueller said, and neighbors can make arguments before the LCB as to why licenses should not be renewed.
Recently, for example, the LCB refused to renew the license of Bella Noche, 2100 St. Vincent St. The establishment had been the focus of many neighborhood complaints and a shooting, PDAC members had said at earlier meetings.
If Bella Noche’s owner, Bella Noche Inc., appeals the LCB’s refusal, Grossman said in an e-mail to the Northeast Times, the establishment will be allowed to remain open until the appeal is decided. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org