Traveling criminal groups, clans, or "gypsies" (they hate to be called that) are a serious problem in all 50 states. If you have elderly relatives, it will take about 5 minutes to educate them to their scams. Read this, and use this knowledge to keep your elderly relatives or neighbors safe.
Jerseyans warned against gypsies, scams and thieves
Sunday, August 12, 2007
BY RICK HEPP
There was a knock at her door, and the Sayreville senior citizen opened it to a woman dressed in a white hat and coat, holding a tote bag.
The visitor barged through the half-open entryway, then introduced herself as a home health care worker.
As the wary homeowner moved to the kitchen, the visitor followed, speaking quickly and offering a free blood pressure exam. The next thing the 79-year-old woman knew, the health care worker had unfolded a large hand-embroidered blanket and held it up, blocking the senior's view.
"Look, look, look. Isn't this beautiful?" the health care worker said, according to police reports. As she spoke, a teenage girl slipped through the front door behind her.
It was a classic diversion burglary, foiled only by chance, when the homeowner's daughter suddenly returned home and chased away the intruders.
Within days of the crime, in 2006, police had identified two suspects -- members of the Lakatosz clan, a nomadic, multigenerational crime family suspected in similar scams across 10 states. Cops, victims and even the suspects themselves also know the Lakatosz by another name: gypsies.
More than a century after police first started talking about gypsies, authorities say such roving clans of swindlers continue to prey on seniors, recluses and other targets. No region is spared, authorities say, but New Jersey seems to be especially fertile ground.
"They like metropolitan areas and airports and travel highways to get places," said Jon Grow, a former Baltimore police officer who launched a national network of investigators to help local police identify scams and suspects. "New Jersey is at the crossroads of everywhere they want to go."
In late June, state prosecutors indicted two reputed gypsies, Susan Frank and Brenda Miguel, for allegedly swindling $165,000 from an 83-year-old West Orange widower. Authorities said the two women struck up a romantic relationship with the widower after a "chance" meeting at a local diner, then convinced him to hand over the money for their business ventures.
And in Chatham Township, police last month disrupted what they believe was a typical fraud, when a teen tried to seal a resident's driveway after the homeowner said he wasn't interested in the service. Police arrived as the boy was preparing to do the work anyway, and speculated that it was part of a scheme that would end with a threat to make the homeowner pay.
"It was our strong suspicion that he was probably part of an organized group," said Chatham police Lt. Peter Katsakos.
The term "Gypsies" refers to a migratory ethnic group that traces its roots to northern India more than a thousand years ago. But in the United States, police and others often use the term as a nickname for three distinct bands of immigrant criminals.
The newest are so-called European gypsies, who emigrated from Communist bloc countries in the latter half of the 1900s and are known for diversion burglaries and shoplifting, according to authorities. Before them came American gypsies, who investigators say arrived from Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s and specialize in diversion burglaries, sweetheart swindles, insurance fraud and fortune telling.
The oldest group, they say, is the Travelers, bands of thieves who first came from Ireland, England and Scotland in the 1700s and mid-1800s and ply home improvement frauds, and phony tool and trailer sales.
Such criminal families pass their knowledge of various scams from generation to generation, work in populated, diverse areas where they can blend in and escape quickly, and seem clustered in a few ethnic groups, investigators say. They don't send their children to school beyond second grade, don't file taxes and don't use their real names, preferring to call each other by nicknames.
The combination makes them hard to catch.
"They're here for a few months and then they're gone," said Sgt. Gregory Kowalczyk of the Union County Prosecutor's Office.
Police have identified at least 50 such crime families operating in New Jersey, stealing cash, jewelry, heirlooms and even the family silver.
One Union County family, the Mitchells, became renowned not for crimes, but for acting as intermediaries between police and gypsies who got arrested. The most famous of them was Steven "Two Bones" Mitchell, known to travel the country to post bail and plea bargain charges. He died in 2003 at age 75.
"People come to you and ask you for help," Mitchell's son, Archie, said in an interview. "It wasn't a job, it was us trying to help out our people."
Few, however, rival the Lakatosz clan, suspected by police of stealing millions of dollars in cash and merchandise over the years and headed by Witold Lakatosz, a 62-year-old Polish immigrant who calls himself the "King of Gypsies."
According to police, Lakatosz's family immigrated to Chicago in the 1960s, but his parents were soon arrested on burglary charges and deported. Since that time, he, his wife, their seven children and even their grandchildren have been suspected, arrested or jailed in dozens of crimes.
Identifying the gypsies sometimes isn't the hard part.
One FBI investigation about a decade ago involved a string of 30 South Jersey burglaries by suspects who stole more than $500,000, mostly from senior citizens. During the case, Witold Lakatosz, his son, John Taylor, and a nephew admitted conspiring to offer $10,000 to an Atlantic City police officer to weaken the case. The elder Lakatosz was sentenced to 21 months in prison and his son received a 27-month term.
But they were never charged with the burglaries.
"I don't think there was any proof," said Witold Lakatosz's attorney, Salvatore Avena.
In the Sayreville case, police named Witold Lakatosz's daughter-in-law, Anna Koza, and his granddaughter, Sheila Lakatosz, as suspects after the homeowner's daughter identified them from mug shots as the women who burst into her mother's home.
The police issued warrants for both on theft and burglary charges. In a stroke of luck, New York Police Department officers nabbed Koza and the younger Lakatosz in August 2006, while they were attending the Brooklyn funeral for another member of the clan.
Koza was taken to Connecticut to await sentencing on charges related to several burglaries in which the suspect posed as a visiting nurse. Her daughter, meanwhile, has pleaded guilty in New Jersey Superior Court and is awaiting sentencing.
As authorities learn more about these criminal families, they say, they hope to educate the public. Some municipalities also have tried to deter the frauds by requiring laborers to get permits before offering services door to door.
But Kowalczyk, of the Union County Prosecutor's Office, said he doubts the gypsies will disappear.
"There's too much money in it for them," he said. "It's a strange crime, but it's here."
Rick Hepp may be reached at (609) 989-0398 or at email@example.com
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08-12-2007, 09:07 AM #1
- Join Date
- Jul 1999
- Flanders, NJ
If you have elderly relatives, read this
08-12-2007, 10:34 AM #2
Good post George. I work for the Alabama Attorney General's Office and every year we conduct a series of day long seminars around the state to educate seniors about fraud and scams. Over the years, I've been to at least 30 of them. I don't think there's been a single time where at least one person didn't come forward and say they had been victimized by some type of con artist.
It rips your heart out to hear the stories. They never get over it. If a thug knocks them in the head and steals a purse, they get over it because that's just what thugs do but at their age the betrayal of trust is often too much to bear.
08-13-2007, 04:12 PM #3
- Join Date
- Sep 1999
- I don't know but I here laughing.
"Give me you tears gypsy"This space for rent
08-13-2007, 04:59 PM #4
after reading the article posted,i realize that we have the same problems in France with "gypsies".specially in summer time,they stole everything at elderly people's houses.
they stole many things cause they (gypsies),act in group of many people,specially young children who enter at the rear of houses when others speak to elderly people who are at the front door.for police officers it is hard to find the stolen things,the "gypsies" sell them as used objects.
Last edited by frenchfireball; 08-13-2007 at 05:06 PM."sauver ou périr"
"courage et dévouement"
2 french mottoes in french fire service.
08-14-2007, 12:23 AM #5
This is terrible People that treat old folks like that should be dragged out behind a dumptser somewhere and taught some respect.
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