I-TEAM | Money mules: A look at scam spanning several states

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 7:41 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The FBI is now investigating after our I-Team helped uncover a scam spanning multiple states, with elderly victims and local ties. The I-Team teamed up with our sister station in Wichita to uncover a scam that led us down a dirt road in North Augusta looking for answers.

Delpha Schrader lives more than a thousand miles away from Augusta — in Wichita, Kansas. She lives on a fixed income and tries to make every penny count. Which is why she’s sick to her stomach thinking about the $1,500 she recently shipped overnight to South Carolina.

“She said it’s not a loan, but it’s a grant from the government,” said Schrader.

Scammers spoofing her cousins Facebook profile to earn her trust – passing her around to official sounding people on the phone. Mixing in real, verifiable businesses like senior benefit assistance with fake employees like Ellen Bradley.

“Your name is picked randomly,” she said.

But unlike other scams asking for green dot cards, or wiring money she mailed $1,500 in cash.

“Wasn’t that stupid?” she said.

To an address in North Augusta, South Carolina.

“The desk that I sent to is Charlotte Luker in Augusta, South Carolina,” she said.

More than 1,000 miles away from Wichita, Kansas — the plot thickens down a dirt road.

Sometimes scammers will use a PO box or even a one day Airbnb rental to deliver packages. But Charlotte Luker delivered them to a home in North Augusta. UPS confirms she signed for Ms. Delpha Schrader’s package on May 27th.

“You’re stealing people’s money, exactly what it is. And people like me give it to them,” said Schrader.

“Does she get a lot of packages next door? A lot of deliveries? Do you see delivery trucks?” said Laura Warren.

“Yeah I got cameras — always UPS or FedEx coming up and down,” said a neighbor.

Sure enough on one of our visits to try to reach Ms. Luker we found an overnight delivery from FedEx from an address in Irwin, Pennsylvania.

Our sister station spoke with Luker’s daughter on the phone. She didn’t want to go on camera. But, the property is in her name, and her mother lives there.

“This has been a point of contention in their family for about three years. That her mom allegedly receives these checks and coordinates shipping them to someone out of the country. It seems she may be being scammed herself, because her daughter says she was promised hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Alex Flippin, KWCH – Witchita, KS.

“Because her husband died and she used to come over here asking for money. I know she doesn’t have any money,” said a neighbor.

So is she a victim herself? We’ve called her, knocked on her door several times, reached out on Facebook, but we haven’t been able to ask her ourselves. But, our I-Team found an incident report Luker filed in Aiken County in May of last year. She noticed $3,000 had been wired to her account from the UK. She continued to use her account thinking the money would be taken back. She went to her bank and they told her to file this report.

“She also had lost a ton of money herself to what we believe to be a scam artist,” said Marc Bennett, district attorney for Sedgwick County in Kansas.

After we confirmed Charlotte Luker is a real person, with a real address, Delpha Schrader filed a police report up in Kansas.

“The extradition cost to fly her back here would be more than the restitution we could get from her,” he said.

The time this case would take to figure out — at what point if any – Luker became a knowing participant victimizing others would not make sense for their jurisdiction for a $1,500 case.

“I could bring this woman back, hang her upside down in front of the courthouse — and no money is going to fall out,” said Bennett.

So they closed their case. But how often do local jurisdictions, decide the payoff, isn’t worth it?

Our I-Team found another case never prosecuted involving Luker out of Worcester, Massachusetts for a larger sum of money – $12,000.

A lady named Antoinette claims back in June of 2020 she received a text from who she thought was her friend Nick. Nick asked her to “Send 12,000 to Charlotte Luker in South Carolina.” Fake Nick told her “He would receive a large sum of money in return.” Antoinette says she “Mailed the money — FedEx” and realized it was a scam when they asked her to send more.

“The reality is we do these kind of conversations regularly because it is the only way I know of for people to get their money back is to not lose it in the first place,” said Bennett.

Filing a police report doesn’t seem to be the answer.

This is a letter to the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office from Worcester investigators. They determined the crime happened in Aiken County and it would be up to Aiken County to figure out. Which seems to be conflicting information.

“South Carolina, Georgia, Texas wherever it may be — they don’t have any jurisdiction over our victim’s victimization. That takes place here,” said Bennett.

Passing the buck. But now we’re hoping the buck, stops. Since our I-Team learned the FBI is now investigating this case.

Victims say they just want justice and assurance this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“Why in the world I fell for this thing...” said Schrader.

So where does this case go from here? The Sedgwick County DA referred the case to the FBI, and we submitted everything we found to the FBI’s case file as well. But the FBI does not comment on their investigations until it’s case closed. So we will keep following up, until that happens.

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