By Jim Donovan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane announced today that a grand jury investigation has led to charges against four co-conspirators for a scheme that targeted elderly victims throughout the country to steal thousands of dollars in a “Grandparent Scam.”
The scammers allegedly stole at least $162,600 and are accused of attempting to steal approximately $37,325 more. One victim alone, a woman from Texas, was allegedly defrauded of $64,900.
The investigation identified 11 senior citizens in eight states as known victims. The victims’ average age is 79 and some reside in states as far away as California, Texas and Washington. The full scope of their scheme is still unknown and the investigation is ongoing.
The “Grandparent Scam” is one of the more common scams targeted at the elderly. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that people across the country have been scammed out of $42 million as a result of “Grandparent Scams.”
Those charged today face two counts of corrupt organizations and one count each of criminal conspiracy, identity theft and theft by deception for their role in the scheme, and include:
• Spencer Compas, 29, 2113 S. Etting St., Philadelphia;
• Witson Lavilette, 38, 3901 Roosevelt Blvd., Philadelphia;
• Johanne Wesh, 37, 1428 Easton Road, Abington, Montgomery County; and
• Kens Wesh, 38, 1446 E 86th St., Brooklyn, New York.
Compas, Lavilette and Johanne Wesh were taken into custody yesterday and are each being held on $1 million bail. They are all scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. An arrest warrant is still active for Kens Wesh, who is believed to be in New York City.
The investigation began following a complaint from a 77-year-old man from California. He said he had been scammed out of thousands of dollars by a caller claiming to be an attorney for his grandson, who supposedly was arrested for a DUI in Philadelphia. The caller said the money was for bail and attorney’s fees. After receiving $6,600 from the victim, the scammers called again and said they would need an additional $10,000. The victim then realized he had been scammed and that his grandson was never arrested.
As a result of the complaint an undercover sting was initiated. On Dec. 11, 2013, a package purportedly containing $10,000 from the victim was delivered to a home on West Albanus St. in Philadelphia, utilizing a law enforcement agent posing as a UPS carrier. Spencer Compas was waiting to receive the package at the address and was apprehended.
Compas told the grand jury that Lavilette asked him to provide addresses in Philadelphia for the delivery of “paper,” which he knew actually meant money. According to the grand jury presentment, Kens Wesh recruited Lavilette and his sister, Johanne, to be part of the scam.
The Office of Attorney General is seeking other victims and believes there could be many more across the country.
Anyone who believes that they were scammed by these individuals after sending (or being asked to send) money to an address in Philadelphia, Abington (Montgomery County) or Bronx, New York, should contact the Office of Attorney General’s Organized Crime Section in Norristown at 610-631-5937.