Northeast Times

Scam suspect pulls a slow one

Ac­cused of swind­ling an 81-year-old man, Sandra An­der­son has had her hear­ing post­poned nine times in 15 months. Last week she showed up late. Her law­yer didn’t show at all.

Sandra An­der­son looked a lot dif­fer­ent in court last week than she ap­peared in her June 2010 mug shot.

But little if any­thing had changed for the 81-year-old North­east man whom An­der­son al­legedly scammed out of more than $50,000 by us­ing her once-stun­ning ap­pear­ance and a dis­tress­ing, al­beit con­trived, sob story.

For the ump­teenth time, he showed up for what was to be An­der­son’s pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing on theft charges. And once again, he left court without justice and without his money.

An­der­son’s hear­ing was post­poned for the ninth time in 15 months on Oct. 6 as she showed up late for court and her de­fense at­tor­ney didn’t show up at all.

A court of­ficer told Judge Thomas F. Gehret that de­fense at­tor­ney Coley Reyn­olds had called ahead of time to re­port a con­flict on the de­fend­er’s sched­ule. Reyn­olds was com­mit­ted to an­oth­er case else­where.

But that didn’t jibe with what As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Lisa My­ers said she’d been told. My­ers said she also spoke with Reyn­olds ahead of time and un­der­stood that the case was to go for­ward un­less An­der­son man­aged to pro­duce about $49,000 in out­stand­ing debt for her al­leged vic­tim. An­der­son already has paid back about $8,000 to him, ac­cord­ing to the pro­sec­utor.

My­ers’ of­fice was pre­pared to with­draw its case against An­der­son had she re­turned the rest of the stolen money.

Gehret said he planned to have a word with Reyn­olds about the mis­un­der­stand­ing and res­ched­uled the hear­ing for Nov. 22. The 81-year-old vic­tim told My­ers that he would be avail­able to testi­fy that day.

Reyn­olds did not re­turn a tele­phone mes­sage re­quest­ing com­ment on the is­sue.

Mean­while, the judge re­fused to ad­dress An­der­son at all at the hear­ing without her at­tor­ney present, oth­er than to ad­mon­ish her for show­ing up more than an hour after her 8 a.m. sub­poena. An­der­son, 35, has been free on her own re­cog­niz­ance since shortly after her June 18, 2010 ar­rest. She is charged with theft by de­cep­tion, theft by un­law­ful tak­ing and re­ceiv­ing stolen prop­erty.

The al­leged swindle began in Septem­ber 2009, au­thor­it­ies have said, when a 21-year-old wo­man, Tiffany Mitchell, ap­proached the vic­tim on the street near the Read­ing Ter­min­al Mar­ket. Mitchell told the older man that she had seen him many times in the area and asked to ex­change tele­phone num­bers.

He was re­luct­ant at first, au­thor­it­ies claim, but even­tu­ally began meet­ing Mitchell for lunches and a din­ner date. After a couple of weeks, Mitchell told the man she needed a kid­ney trans­plant but didn’t have $25,000 to pay for the op­er­a­tion. After the wo­man’s teary-eyed plea, the vic­tim gave her the money.

A month or so later, Mitchell called him again and asked him for more cash to start a seam­stress busi­ness, au­thor­it­ies have said. When the man went to her Ritten­house Square apart­ment on Spruce Street near 15th, she told him she also needed rent money. Mitchell’s hus­band, George Wal­lace, was there at the time and posed as the land­lord.

The vic­tim gave up an­oth­er $5,000.

Mitchell and Wal­lace were also charged with theft in the case and even­tu­ally paid back most of their share of the stolen money, My­ers said. The pro­sec­utor with­drew their charges.

Au­thor­it­ies have de­scribed the couple and An­der­son as mem­bers of a group of trav­el­ing pro­fes­sion­al scam artists. An­der­son ap­par­ently ob­tained the vic­tim’s phone num­ber from the couple and car­ried the swindle to new levels.

She al­legedly called the vic­tim, told him they had ex­changed phone num­bers pre­vi­ously and hit him up for money. She said she needed cash for rent and to in­vest in a New York City pi­ano bar, au­thor­it­ies claim. Between Novem­ber 2009 and Feb­ru­ary 2010, the man sur­rendered $57,000 to An­der­son.

When his fam­ily learned about the pay­ments, they con­tac­ted au­thor­it­ies.

A po­lice su­per­visor who in­vest­ig­ated the case said that the North­east man fell for the scam be­cause he ac­cep­ted “at face value” what the at­tract­ive wo­men told him.

“It scares me be­cause they men­tally beat this man,” Lt. Ed Zach­wieja said at the time.

Dur­ing the in­vest­ig­a­tion, po­lice dis­covered that An­der­son had used sim­il­ar meth­ods to con an Up­per Darby man out of $300,000 in 2005. She pleaded guilty to theft charges in that case, agreed to pay resti­tu­tion and was sen­tenced to pro­ba­tion. It is un­known if she fol­lowed through on the resti­tu­tion.

But a dif­fer­ent Sandra An­der­son showed up in court last week. Her once care­fully styled bottle-blonde hair is now longer and brown. She wore it haphaz­ardly pinned back.

Her cloth­ing was cas­u­al at best: a well-worn black sweat­shirt-and-pants en­semble with “Love Pink” lo­gos ad­orn­ing the shirt and her large black tote bag. She wore cos­tume jew­elry on her wrists and fin­gers. She sat alone. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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