HOULTON, Maine — A man has been jailed in Tennessee, accused of bilking a 90-year-old Houlton woman out of $6,000 in an alleged scam across the nation totaling $200,000.
Rico Black, 33, has been charged in Tennessee, thanks in part to a Houlton Police Department investigation.
Police Chief Butch Asselin said the Houlton resident told police earlier this month that a man identifying himself as Black had contacted her, saying she had won $50,000 in a Reader’s Digest sweepstakes. Black allegedly told the woman that, in order to collect the money, she would need to wire him $2,900 to cover taxes.
The woman was told her winnings would be sent to her as soon as she wired the money.
Asselin said that because the victim participates in the Reader’s Digest sweepstakes, she thought the call was legitimate. She subsequently went to a Wal-Mart store and sent the $2,900 and paid a $100 fee for the MoneyGram, which then was wired to Black in Huntington, W.Va.
The next day, the man allegedly contacted the woman again, telling her that he had not received the MoneyGram and instructed her to send it again. The man allegedly said the first MoneyGram would be returned if the second one was received. She spent another $3,000 in hopes of collecting her winnings.
On Sept. 5, the woman re-turned to the store where she had bought the MoneyGrams because she had not heard from Black. The clerk at the service counter suggested that she con-tact police.
Working closely with Wal-Mart security personnel, Houl-ton police Detective Carolyn Crandall determined that the first MoneyGram was picked up in Ripley, Tenn., and the second, in Covington, Tenn. Wal-Mart store security in these locations provided infor-mation valuable to the case, Asselin said.
Police allege that Black, 33, had picked up a total of 11 Mon-eyGrams valued at $2,900 each in the previous three months. Store security personnel told police that two men and a woman had been involved in picking up the MoneyGrams.
Black, who believed to be from Georgia, was identified as one of the three.
Working with Covington and Ripley police, Crandall obtained still photos of Black allegedly picking up the Money-Grams.
Investigators from Covington police allege 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 Covington over the alleged scam. Police said they saw numerous MoneyGram receipts when they went to Black’s home.
Covington police arrested him.
Working with the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Of-fice, an arrest warrant was is-sued for Black, who is expected to be prosecuted in Covington first, then will be brought to Maine to answer a Class C theft by deception felony charge. The Class C charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
Crandall said Black’s alleged associates also were in custody and that all three may face multiple federal charges. Covington police did not return a phone call Thursday, and Crandall said she was not sure which charges Black faces in Tennessee.
The victim’s money has not been returned to her, Crandall said.
Asselin warned people to be cautious. He said that a deal that sounds too good to be true probably is.
He credited Wal-Mart security, Covington and Ripley police, and Crandall in the arrest.
The U.S. Postal Service and the FBI now are involved in the investigation.