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 firstname.lastname@example.org