White-collar criminals prey on vulnerable and unsuspecting

Assistant Chief District Attorney Jeanne Canavan said white-collar criminals take advantage of the most trusting and kind members of society.

By the time authorities figured out Leonard Stewart was the victim of a conman, he had already turned over the deed to his house, car title and most of his other assets to a man and his alleged “niece.”

Nicholas Marks was arrested after bank employees thought something about him was strange, according to Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Jeanne Canavan. Marks was at the bank to empty what remained in Stewart’s safe deposit box.

According to Canavan, bank employees asked Marks who he was. He told them he was a lawyer but when the bank called the State Bar of Georgia, his name wasn’t registered. Police arrived and charged Marks with impersonating an attorney, a misdemeanor.

While police were searching Marks’ car they found much of what he had stolen from Stewart. He was later charged and convicted of multiple crimes including theft, exploitation of an elderly person and abuse.

Stewart died before Marks’ trial but Canavan was able to use his testimony from one of Marks’ bond hearings to try the case. Routinely, Canavan said, prosecutors in elder abuse or white-collar crime cases use depositions of witness testimony in case something happens to the victim and they are unable to testify at trial.

“We don’t usually do that but I realized that the hearing was an opportunity to record Mr. Stewart’s testimony. The transcript of the bond hearing served the same purpose as a deposition,” Canavan said.

Canavan called Marks a traveler: a conman who travels the country ripping off the elderly and vulnerable. She said Marks had been arrested many times before relocating to Georgia.

“That man had gone state-to-state and gotten away with it and I didn’t want the fact that our victim had passed away to be able to go out and [allow him] to do it again,” Canavan said.

In March 2004, court documents state Stewart was dining alone at a DeKalb County restaurant and was approached by an attractive woman in her “early 50s, late 40s” who asked Stewart to join her and Marks at a nearby table. Marks claimed to be the woman’s uncle.

Marks’ used the alias Ron Russo, and over the next several weeks posing as Russo, he offered to do legal work for Stewart in exchange for Stewart’s 1990 automobile. Stewart signed over the title to Marks, who then convinced Stewart to let him manage his financial assets as well.

According to prosecutors, Marks removed jewelry from Stewart’s safety deposit box, closed certain joint accounts in Stewart’s name and made approximately $27,000 in unauthorized charges on Stewart’s credit card.

Canavan said at one point, Marks convinced Stewart to take out a restraining order on his best friend, who previously managed his assets. Stewart’s friend Beth Barnett had been a cosigner on his bank accounts and stock holdings. Barnett also held his power of attorney and was named executor of his estate.

“Marks also persuaded Mr. Stewart to make a new will, ‘temporarily’ naming Marks’ daughter, Rachel Marks, as executrix and sole beneficiary. Marks retained an attorney and he took Mr. Stewart to that attorney’s office for the purpose of drafting the new will,” court documents state. However, before the new will could be executed, Marks was arrested.

When Marks was arrested he had a briefcase containing a forged deed, which he had filed in DeKalb County Superior Court, 40 blank checks from Stewart’s bank account at Suntrust, the title to Stewart’s car and other documents.

Another notable white-collar case Canavan tried involved a family-owned company Robinson’s Trucking, which she said stole millions in merchandise from unsuspecting truck drivers.

“They were stealing tractor trailers—Atlanta is a hub for tractor trailers—they were coming through Atlanta and unloading them in 30 minutes, then dumping the trailers just outside the county line,” Canavan said.

They would have truck drivers standing by at night to take the trailers while the legitimate truck driver was sleeping or eating at the truck stop. This was a major group of people and the amount of money represented by the amount of stolen merchandise in those warehouses was almost impossible to fathom.”

Canavan said the crooks then stored the stolen merchandise in two warehouses they owned and sold the stolen goods out of a retail store named “Vibes,” located on Rockbridge Road.

“You would walk into this store, which was classified as a men’s clothing store, and you would see cookies, microwaves, truck tires and washing machines,” Canavan said.

Canavan said there are several ways to avoid being victim of theft or identity fraud. The first is to never giving your personal information over the phone: this includes Social Security numbers, birthdays and your mothers’ maiden name.

Additionally, Canavan said not to hire anybody who knocks on a door asking for work. She also said it’s important to pay attention to bank accounts each month and review charges.

“Here’s the important thing, the bank will reimburse fraud but only if it’s discovered [within] 30-60 days,” Canavan said.

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