HOULTON — A 33-year-old Georgia man who allegedly bilked a 90-year-old Houlton woman out of $6,000 and was involved in similar scams across the nation totaling $200,000 has been arrested thanks to an investigation by the Houlton Police Department.
Police Chief Butch Asselin said that on Sept. 5 the Houlton resident told police she had been contacted by a man who identified himself as Rico Black. Black reportedly told the woman she had won $50,000 in a Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes, and that in order to collect the money, she had to wire him $2,900 to cover taxes owed to the IRS.
She was told that as soon as she wired the money, she would be sent her winnings. Asselin said that because the victim participates in the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes, she thought the call was legitimate. She subsequently went to a local department store and sent the $2,900 and also paid a $100 fee for the MoneyGram, which then was wired to Black in Huntington, West Va.
The next day, Rico Black reportedly contacted the woman again, and told her that he had not received the MoneyGram and instructed her to send it again. Black informed her that the first MoneyGram would be returned if the second one was received. She again spent another $3,000 in hopes of collecting her winnings.
On Sept. 5, the woman returned to the department store where she had purchased the MoneyGrams because she had not heard from Black. The clerk at the service counter suggested that she contact the police department.
Working closely with department store security, Houlton Detective Carolyn Crandall determined that the first MoneyGram was picked up in Ripley, Tenn., and the second in Covington, Tenn. Department store security in these locations provided crucial information valuable to the case, according to Asselin.
Police eventually learned that Black allegedly picked up 11 MoneyGrams valued at $2,900 each in the previous three months. Store security told police there were three individuals — two men and a woman —involved in picking up the MoneyGrams, one of whom was identified as Black.
Working with the Covington and Ripley police departments, Crandall obtained still shots of Black allegedly picking up the MoneyGrams and his supporting identification information. Investigators from the Covington Police Department indicated that Black and his associates were responsible for picking up $200,000 worth of MoneyGrams within the past six months from victims scattered across the United States.
Asselin said that Houlton was the first police department to contact them over the alleged scam. When police arrived at Black’s residence, numerous MoneyGram receipts reportedly were seen in the home.
Black subsequently was questioned and arrested by the Covington Police Department. Working with the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Office, a warrant of arrest was issued for Black.
Crandall said Thursday the victim has not yet received her money back.
Asselin credited Wal-Mart security, investigators with the Covington Police Department, Ripley Police Department and Crandall in the arrest of Black and the subsequent breakup of the crime ring.
The U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation now are involved in the investigation.