Victims of fraud who were bilked out of a total of $30,000 are warning St. John residents to be on alert, and to be careful about who they trust.
Part-time resident Lucy Banks and her contractor Dan McElwee each lost thousands of dollars when a workman on McElwee’s construction crew allegedly stole checks from their checkbooks and cashed in at their expense. McElwee first noticed strange checks on his bank statements late last year.
“I reviewed both bank statements as I normally do, and on my Scotiabank account, I noticed there’d been a check written for $4,000,” said McElwee. “Then, on my FirstBank statement, I see a check written for $4,000 to the same name.”
After leaving both banking institutions unhappy with their response to his concerns, McElwee asked his lawyer for help. The contractor’s lawyer suggested a trip to the Attorney General’s office was in order, and the following day, McElwee made his way to St. Thomas. After filling out a form at the AG’s office and attempting to deal with the banks again, McElwee finally filed a police report.
Twelve Checks Stolen
“I did everything I could,” said McElwee. “I waited and waited and months went by. I went to each bank to check on things on a regular basis.”
While McElwee waited for answers, Banks — who was building a cottage on her Chocolate Hole property with McElwee’s help — soon discovered that she, too, had been a victim of fraud.
“We don’t know exactly when the checks disappeared, and we didn’t notice until January 18, when someone from Scotiabank’s St. John branch called and asked my husband if he’d written a check to cash for $6,500,” said Banks. “He told them we never write a check for cash.”
The Banks immediately put a freeze on their account, and went through their checkbook one by one. They eventually realized they were missing checks 461 through 469, along with three checks which had been ripped out earlier in the series. A total of 12 checks had been stolen.
Four Men Implicated
Shane Bristol was arrested the same day the couple were notified that someone had tried to cash one of their checks for $6,500.
“When he couldn’t cash the check on St. John, he scooted out of the bank, went to St. Thomas and tried it all over again,” said Banks. “He cashed a check at Altona for $4,900, and then went to Havensight and tried to cash another check. Someone there was smart enough to look at our signature.”
The Banks were notified that the Havensight Scotiabank branch was holding Bristol, and were told they would receive a follow-up call informing them what happened.
“About a half hour later, they called back and said he’d been arrested,” said Banks.
Bristol told V.I. Police Department officers he’d been brought to the bank by Sheldon Paul — an employee of McElwee’s — who told Bristol he was in the V.I. illegally and needed help cashing some checks.
The VIPD had no known address for Paul, and they suggested McElwee ask him to come back to work as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, explained McElwee.
Paul Arrested at Job Site
“The next day, I went to pick him up and it was business as usual,” said the contractor. “He signed in and went to work.”
The VIPD were notified, but initially hesitated to arrest Paul, because they were planning on arresting one of his accomplices that day and didn’t want to arrest two people in one day, according to McElwee. VIPD officers did soon arrive at Banks’
Chocolate Hole property, however, and after some confusion — including the firing of a taser gun — Paul was taken peacefully.
“The police said they shot off the taser gun and told him it was much more powerful than the nail gun he had in his hand,” said McElwee.
Paul, 30 years old, appeared before V.I. Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall on Thursday, January 24, when Kendall upheld charges of grand larceny, possession of stolen property and obtaining money by false pretense. A St. Lucia native, Paul entered the U.S. in 2000 on a one-month visitor visa, and his green card status is pending, according to published reports.
Evan Lake, Ronald Stout and Davidson Alfred, also implicated in the scheme, appeared before Judge James Carroll III on Thursday, January 31, when Carroll upheld charges against each of the men of forgery, obtaining money by false pretense, grand larceny and possession of stolen property. Stout and Lake told VIPD officers Alfred gave them the stolen checks, according to published reports. The two men deposited the checks into their own accounts, then subsequently withdrew the money and gave it to Alfred for a reward of $500, according to published reports. It was unclear how Alfred obtained the checks, as Paul is the only man known to have been on the Banks’ property.
McElwee realized his case may be connected with Banks’ when he noticed yet another strange check on his January Scotiabank statement made out to Ronald Stout — a name he recognized from the Banks’ ordeal.
“Now I’m thinking I have some hope, because Lucy had interaction with the VIPD and they’re pursuing her case, where nothing has happened with mine,” said the contractor.
“You Can’t Be Too Careful”
VIPD Detective Kent Hodge spent more than an hour with McElwee taking his statement, and the contractor is working on obtaining full restitution from both banks, he explained. He also hopes his case will be joined with the Banks’, which has yet to go to trial. McElwee has been refunded the money stolen from his Scotiabank account, and is still waiting to receive the nearly $4,000 stolen from his FirstBank account, he explained.
Both fraud victims had stern warnings for residents of St. John.
“Everybody should have a safe in their house and secure their valuables including checkbooks and anything having to do with credit cards,” said McElwee. “There’s no other way you’ll keep these things from somebody if you have any type of activity going on around your house.”
“You get kind of laid back and comfortable here, but you just can’t be too careful,” added Banks.