SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A South Carolina man who bilked a retired San Diego Catholic priest out of his life savings by informing the victim that he had won $1.6 million and needed to pay up-front taxes of $40,000 was sentenced Thursday to a year in jail and placed on five years probation.
Earl Roberts Jr., 31, pleaded guilty in September to theft from an elderly person.
Authorities said the defendant sent a phony letter, purportedly from Publishers Clearing House, informing retired priest Michael Ortiz that he had won $1.6 million. The letter went on to say that all the 85-year-old priest had to do to collect the winnings was to pay the taxes of $40,000 up front.
The letter, which included a legitimate looking sample check, said Ortiz should respond within 72 hours to an "agent" whose name and phone number were printed on the letter.
After the priest contacted the agent, he received a second letter from someone claiming to be his private attorney from Publisher's Clearing House. Also included was a fake release from the Internal Revenue Service in which Ortiz was agreeing to pay $40,000 up front rather than have his winnings taxed at the rate of 40 percent.
The phony sweepstakes letter went on to say that upon paying the $40,000, Ortiz would receive an activation code to cash his $1.6 million check. By the time the priest called his contact to ask for the code, the phone number was disconnected.
Roberts was tracked down and arrested because Ortiz contacted the Elder Abuse Unit of the San Diego County District Attorney's Office once he realized he had been duped.
"We see a lot of scams like this, but stealing the life savings of a retired priest is really a new low," said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. "We hope it will be a serious reminder to seniors and their children: Educate yourselves and be aware of scammers waiting to take advantage of you."
Ortiz, who spent 30 years as an Army chaplain before moving to San Diego to work at Cathedral Catholic High School, said he had dreams of giving half of his winnings to the school and using the rest to pay off his mortgage, car and other expenses.
The priest said he had no savings before age 75 because he had taken a vow of poverty, meaning he owned nothing.
Ortiz said Roberts and his cohorts were professional and the priest was naive and gullible in falling for the scam.
"It is embarrassing, but I think it's important that people understand there are people out there after your money, especially if you're elderly like me," the priest said.
Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood said investigators got a break in the Ortiz case because the priest was ordered to wire the money and authorities used bank records to track down Roberts.
Beekeeping and cheese making will be just two of the demonstrations taking place at Hawthorne Country Store’s annual fall Homesteading Arts Fair this weekend.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama will appear Wednesday at BOLD, the annual conference presented by wellness technology company MINDBODY.
One local hotel has come up with a creative solution to stop unwanted guests from ruffling feathers. For years seagulls would swoop in on outdoor events at the Hotel Del Coronado, but not anymore.
UC San Diego researchers on Tuesday announced plans to conduct a trial on the use of cannabis to treat a common movement disorder know as essential tremor.
Culinary Couture is an exclusive 5-course dining experience where the food and cocktails are as glamorous as trending world designer fashions!
Just in time for World Rhino Day on Sept. 22, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research made a special announcement Tuesday. A second of the six southern white rhinos living at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is pregnant as the result of artificial insemination, according to researchers.
A male east African black rhino that was once a resident of San Diego Zoo Safari Park has made quite a journey to help promote breeding of the critically endangered black rhino
Write something in ink and you'd better be prepared to live with it for a long time. In Monday’s Zevely Zone, Jeff's in South Park to get acquainted with a famous tattoo artist named Turk and his needle.
Hundreds of San Diegans are getting ready to take part in the 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer's in Escondido.