PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Two former Georgia state prison inmates are jailed in that state on charges that they phoned Pittsburgh-area residents and scammed six into wiring $990 each, supposedly to pay fines for missing jury duty.
The Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office expects more victims to emerge as it continues investigating the suspects.
Lauren Posati got a phone call two weeks ago from a caller telling her she had missed jury duty and there were warrants out for her arrest.
“They didn’t say anything conciliatory or friendly. It was just you’re in big trouble. You’re going to jail,” Posati said.
Posati, who is a former court employee, knew enough to hang up the phone. But of the 30 other people to report the calls to the real sheriff’s office, a half dozen actually forked over $990 apiece to avoid arrest.
The Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office learned of the scam on Easter weekend when the victims called claiming they’d received phone calls about fines for missing jury duty.
“It’s strictly a scam, because we don’t do that,” said Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen.
The sheriff’s office, which never contacts people over the phone, began an investigation.
Eventually, they say they traced some of the money transfers made by victims to Taurus Thurman, 28, a convicted felon in Atlanta, Georgia, who was arrested along with Antonio Jones, 36, also of Atlanta.
But it turns out, authorities say the scam goes deeper. The calls emanated from within a Georgia penitentiary, reportedly from inmates using smuggled cell phones.
This appears to be a nationwide scam being orchestrated by prison gangs.
“It’s going out all over the country. And I don’t know if it’s originating solely in Georgia or if there are other penitentiaries throughout the country that they’re calling from,” said Sheriff Mullen.
The sheriff’s office is working with the FBI and Atlanta Police to break the network, but even though they’ve arrested these suspected accomplices, they’ve thus far been unable to get the masterminds who continue to operate behind bars.
Investigators traced the calls to phones with 412 – or Pittsburgh-area – area codes, which were later traced to the suspects through the Georgia State Probation system.
“Due to the diligence of the detectives assigned here at the Allegheny Sheriff’s Office who uncovered this,” said Sheriff Mullen. “And it’s frustrating that although they’re going to make arrests, it looks like we have the possibility of breaking this up, it continues.”
Nobody knows how many victims have been scammed nationwide. The frustration on this end is that the scam continues from deep within the Georgia prison system.
The men were in the Fulton County (Georgia) jail awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania on Monday.
Online court records don’t list defense attorneys.
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