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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Three women have been charged for allegedly stealing $10,000 from an elderly woman in a “found money” scam perpetrated in Jackson Heights, prosecutors said.

District Attorney Richard A. Brown identified the defendants as Juanita Lamb, 57, of West Palisades Avenue in Engelwood, NJ, Deanna Rhett, 59, of West 145th Street in Manhattan, and Donna E. Saunders, 60, of East 184th Street in the Bronx.

According to the charges, Saunders allegedly approached and began talking to the 88-year-old female victim at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2015, at the corner of 77th Street and 31st Avenue. In the midst of what the victim thought was innocent small talk, the victim and Saunders were approached by Rhett, who showed the two a purse filled with what was later discovered to be $100,000 in costume bills.

At the time, Rhett allegedly claimed that she found the purse on the floor and offered to share the money with the victim and Saunders as long as they helped her pay the taxes on it. Lamb then approached them in a Buick, offering the victim a ride home before they all agreed to meet on Aug. 3 to pay the taxes and split the money.

According to Brown, the three suspects picked up the victim at her Queens residence on Aug. 3 and drove her Queens County Savings Bank, where she entered the bank alone and withdrew $10,300 to pay the purported taxes. The victim handed the money to Rhett once back inside the vehicle.

Authorities said the three defendants then drove the victim back to her residence to get proof of her address, but when the victim again emerged from her home, the defendants and the vehicle were gone.

Police Officer Javier Munoz and Detective Michael McFadden of the NYPD’s Financial Crimes Task Force later stopped the defendants’ vehicle, they recovered $3,100 from the floor of the driver’s seat, $4,100 from the floor of the front passenger seat, and $3,100 from Saunders’ waistband.

The officers also recovered an assortment of wigs in various colors and numerous pieces of paper that appeared to be $100 bills but bore the phrase, “for theatrical use.”

“There are many variants of the ‘found money’ scam,” said District Attorney Brown. “Older people are often targeted because they typically live alone and have available financial assets,  such as savings, pensions, and Social Security retirement benefits.”

The trio of defendants were arraigned Tuesday before Queens Supreme Court Justice Barry Kron on an indictment charging them with third-degree grand larceny and third-degree criminal possession of stolen property. If convicted, the three face up to seven years in prison. They are due back in court on June 6.


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