2nd PDAC holds workshop session on how to avoid con artists

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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