HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Hendersonville police cracked down on a major scam operation targeting senior citizens across Middle Tennessee for tens of thousands of dollars.
So far police have helped two Hendersonville victims get their money back, but police say it’s unclear how many victims may be out there.
Police made two dramatic arrests, one that happened Tuesday at the 100 Oaks Mall and the second in Fort Lauderdale at the airport on Wednesday.
News 2 obtained investigative surveillance footage from Tuesday, June 8 at 100 Oaks mall, which shows Hendersonville police officers swarming, then tackling scam suspect Jorge Baglan-Pichardo
According to investigators, when officers arrived on scene the 42-year-old Baglan-Pichardo made a run for it, but did not get far.
With the heat turned up police say his partner, 28-year-old Herrera Alonzo Bienvenido also made a run for it, quickly checking out of a Smyrna motel where investigators say the two had set up shop stealing from Mid State Seniors.
According to police the duo conned, then stole tens of thousands of dollars from at least two Hendersonville seniors.
Sgt. Neal Harris of the Hendersonville Police Department said the operation was complex and believable, tugging at senior citizens’ heart strings, then pocket books.
“It is big. There’s no telling how much money is lost. We are hoping a lot more victims come forward,” Sgt. Harris said.
According to Harris, the Miami duo called unsuspecting seniors with an elaborate story on how a grandchild was in big trouble and the seniors needed to send large amounts of cash immediately.
It’s not clear how the duo targeted the seniors, but Harris said it was most likely through the internet where the duo could access information like names and phone numbers.
According to Harris, one of the alleged suspects called the senior and in a low voice, sometimes garbled or through tears, pretended to be the grandson who was distraught.
Then the other suspect, pretending to be a lawyer for the grandson, would get on the phone and the real scam would begin.
Harris said the suspects would say something like, “Your grandson’s gotten into a lot of trouble. He got into a car accident, resulting in the death of an infant child, and as a result your grandson is in jail and he’s been charged. There’s a bond that must be paid and fees associated with his legal defense and this is what we need to help him right now.”
According to police the thieves were convincing, getting the seniors to go to their banks, pull out thousands in cash, and then wrap the money in a box with distinct markings.
Then a courier from a ride share company was called to pick up the package and deliver it.
Police tell News 2 they initially thought the ride share driver was part of the scam, but it turns out the drivers had no knowledge of any wrongdoing and were simply picking up and dropping off a package they were hired to.
At some point, one of the seniors felt duped and contacted police.
Investigators put much of the detective bureau into action, and when a second victim called with the exact same scam, the police were able to follow the courier, who lead officers to the 100 Oaks Mall and Jorge Baglan Pichardo.
Hendersonville police say Bienvenido drove all night to the Fort Lauderdale airport to return a rental car, but police were one step ahead of the alleged scam artist.
When Bienvenido arrived, Florida law enforcement from the Florida Highway Patrol and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office took the 28-year-old into custody.
That’s when officers got a terrific surprise. When they looked in his back pack, they found more than $50,000 dollars of the scam victim’s money.
Harris said, “We’ve talked to a lot of senior citizens who did not fall for it, who were asked for a large amount of money. We know a lot of victims are falling for it. A lot of people are embarrassed to have fallen for this scam and we hope and pray they will come forward to law enforcement, because we have two guys arrested and in custody and we may be able to prove that these two guys did it to them.”
Bienvendio will be extradited from Florida back to Sumner County to face charges.
Baglan-Pichardo is currently being held in the Sumner County Jail.
Police say both men will be charged with felony theft charges and felony exploitation of a senior.
Police say it is always okay to hang up on someone demanding cash if you feel uncomfortable. Authorities say call the police or call your loved one.
If you feel like you’ve been victimized, call your local police department and report it immediately.