Police track traveling scam artists to Aiken County

By: Stephanie Baker
By: Stephanie Baker

September 8, 2006

Two Aiken County men are accused of scamming the Amish in Illinois and Indiana.

Officers say this isn't the first time they've traced schemes like this to the area...but this group isn't easy to catch.

Officers say a group of traveling scam artists from North Augusta's Murphy Village work odd jobs across the country and rip people off in the process.

But finding them can be tricky, since many don't stay in the same place for long.

It's a group making their living off others. Officers say traveling scam artists agree to work odd jobs across the country, like construction and painting, and then skip town with the person's money.

But Lt. Michael Frank says making arrests can take years.

"You'll find a number of individuals all go by the same name, but all have unique nicknames," he says.

We found more than 40 listings for Riley and Costello, the last names of Murphy Village's two recent arrests.

Joe Livingston, a senior special agent with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, says getting to the right person is challenging because the group is notorious for keeping quiet.

"Unless you know where you're going or who you're talking to, the odds are you're not going to get much information or cooperation."

Officers say license plates and modern technology like databases and online banking make tracking scam artists easier. They've linked suspects from Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, and Atlanta to Murphy Village in the last decade.

"You don't generally make contact with them down there, you make contact on the road," Livingston says. He says the key is networking with law enforcement across the country to catch the suspects.

But the mystery remains...how did this tradition of ripping people off get started?

"You're asking a question that has been asked over and over again for many, many years," Lt. Frank says.

Here's the status of the recent arrests. Thomas Costello faces multiple charges including bribery and tampering with a motor vehicle in Illinois. Thomas Riley was arrested for suspected involvement in multiple scams across the Ohio area. Both men are out on bond.

Law enforcement keeps in contact to catch these suspects. In the case of Thomas Riley, a SLED agent saw a news story on an Ohio TV station's website, and called the sheriff's office to figure out if the suspect came from South Carolina. Officers say that's how it works with most of these cases.

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