Scam Artists Apprehended in Mount Vernon

Scam Artists Apprehended in Mount Vernon

Crime Prevention Officer Greg Kottemann doesn't want citizens to get scammed like several people have recently in Mount Vernon. News of scam artists in the area surfaced with the recent arrests of Paul Kennedy, 26, and John Kennedy, 30, both from Sumerduck, Va., and Monique Cook, 21, from Manassas.

These three people were arrested for robbery after police determined they stole money through intimidation. The police were contacted by a 46-year-old Alexandria area man, who lives in the 2300 block of Wittington Boulevard. He said that on Sunday, Feb. 8, he was awakened by a knock on his front door around 3 a.m. He answered the door to find two men and a woman outside. He recognized the men as landscapers from J & P Tree Service he had hired several months ago. The men said that they needed money immediately for a taxi ride and a place to stay. The victim felt intimidated and gave them an undisclosed amount of money. The men and woman then left.

In addition to robbery, the suspects have also been charged with solicitation of monies without a license after they showed up at the house of a 91-year-old Alexandria area man asking for, and receiving, money. That victim, who lives in the 7200 block of Stafford Road, was visited on two prior occasions where they obtained money from him using a ruse.

Kottemann said that there is a big difference between a flim-flam operation where a person is taken advantage of, and robbery by intimidation, where a person gives money because you fear for your safety. The first crime is a larceny, whereas the latter is a felony.

The police know that there are more victims out there and are asking anybody who had contact with the three people who were arrested to call the police at 703-360-8400 or the Crime Solvers hotline at 800-673-2777.

AS THE WORD GETS AROUND, other victims have been contacting the police. One of the victims who didn't want to be identified said, "I would just say to be careful when dealing with strangers in the neighborhood. You may feel compelled to help someone in need of assistance, but in reality, they are feeding on your goodwill and taking you to the cleaners.

"The woman that police arrested went on and on to me about her 10-month-old son, whom she hadn't seen all day and how she needed to get back to him and feed him. My husband and I learned a good lesson — not to be so trustworthy in the future."

Detective Robert Harford, who's been working the case, said, "I have about 15 voicemails to return from citizens explaining that they have been solicited for money. Most gave them money and one in particular case stated that she felt intimidated. The victims gave the suspects anywhere from $20 to $100. The suspects also stole a checkbook and attempted to cash a check for $900 but they did not get it [the money]."

KOTTEMANN SENT out the following information to local civic groups:

"[There are] ways to avoid becoming a victim to this kind of scam artists. These persons will prey upon your generosity and kindness. They will knock on your door knowing that nine out of ten people will probably answer. They will then attempt to get you to allow them into your home or give them some money with a tale of woe. If not allowed in, they will attempt to make you feel guilty about not letting them in or not giving them money.

"They generally use the same types of stories: I don't have enough money to buy gas to get home, my car broke down and I need money to get it fixed to get home, my wife and child are in the car and we are out of gas (it will be cold or hot outside) and we need money to get home, or to feed the baby.

"These stories go on and on. Often times it will be late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. They are hoping that you will either be disoriented and not think things through, or be intimidated and give them what they want just to get rid of them. It works.

"So how do we protect ourselves from people like this? If you are not expecting visitors and do not recognize the person at the door, do not open the door. By opening the door you have lost your best weapon against these people, a locked door preventing access, eye to eye contact, as well as physical contact.

"Do not let them bait you into believing their story, or opening your door. Tell them that you will call the police or fire department to help them. Direct them to the nearest payphone.

"Don't debate with them at all. Disengage conversation and walk away from the door.

"Call 703-691-2131 immediately so we can come identify the person(s). They could be preying upon your neighbors, they could be wanted for other crimes, and we want them to know that our community won't stand for this type of behavior.

"If they really are in need of assistance, we [police or fire] can help them out. If the person keeps knocking or starts to walk around your house, call 703-691-2131. If they are trying to break in, call 9-1-1."

Kottemann also said that the same techniques apply for unwanted solicitors or anyone at your door who isn't known. He said not to open the door until satisfied that you know and trust the person on the other side of the door. He suggests erring on the side of caution.

Anyone with information about the cases involving J & P Tree Service, or if they have had a similar experience, is asked to call Detective Rob Harford or Officer Dan Horton at 703-360-8400 or Crime Solvers at 800-673-2777.