Noe Valley Voice June 2000

Police Beat: Watch Out for Summertime Scams

By Officer Lois Perillo

It's that time of year again.

A 70-year-old woman was targeted in a scam by a 35-year-old man, who took thousands of dollars from her in exchange for (ineffectively) weeding and sealing her driveway.

The suspect, who said his name was Steve Costello, first approached the woman at her 26th Street home during the afternoon of Saturday, May 13. He was accompanied by two men and drove a gray Toyota pickup truck with no front plate and a possible dent on the right side.

Costello told the woman he had repaired her roof several years ago (not true). Then he left with the two men and returned with tools so they could work on her driveway. At one point, Costello entered the woman's house through her basement in what the woman described as an attempt to "case the place."

She told him to leave the house, and he did. A short time later, however, he demanded payment in cash. She paid him with some money and the balance in a check, which unfortunately cleared before she realized she had been scammed.

Kudos to the woman for reporting this crime so that others may benefit from her mistake.

I'm sure the pros have a quick answer for why the number of scams increases during the spring. Perhaps it's the warm weather. People spend more time outside, taking stock of their homes and looking for ways to improve them.

But some credit must be due the con artist. As many of you know from painful experience, one of the slickest talkers around town is Joseph "Jim" Lawrence. Lawrence not only conned his targets by asking them to donate to his daughter's athletic team, he burgled them, too.

Well, Police Inspector Mark Sullivan recently called to notify me that Law-rence is free, after spending four months of a one-year sentence in county jail. Be alert for his knock on your door.

UPS Would Never Hire This Guy

Meanwhile, another familiar face may appear at your home or business. This one belongs to a phony UPS driver, who lives nearby and was locked out of his house. He frequently wears a brown UPS shirt under a jacket. He will tell you that he just needs $12.50 to take the train to his Peninsula work site, where he keeps money in his locker. Of course, he will pay you back, especially since most of you will give him a $20 bill and some of you will let him in your home to use the phone. This suspect was active throughout the city about three years ago, and has recently revived his scam.

Talk to each other, your family, friends, neighbors, and especially any elders in your life, about the possibility of scams. NEVER accept the so-called bargain of a so-called contractor who calls on you uninvited at home. ALWAYS get a second bid from someone you call and who comes to you via a recommendation. KNOW anyone you allow into your home.

When appropriate, check the identification of any workers at your home and write down their names and associated license numbers. This especially includes those claiming to be from utility companies. NEVER allow a so-called utility worker (gas, electric, phone, cable, etc.) into your home without checking his or her uniform, i.d., and vehicle.

Although most of us do this by second nature, it bears repeating in light of our tightly packed daily lives.

Your Identity's in the Mail

Another easy target of thieves may be your mailbox, especially if it's unsecured.

Officer Lorraine Lombardo recently took the report of a mailbox theft and fraud from a woman who lives on the 1100 block of Sanchez Street. Upon her return from a trip, the woman found a Sprint bill in her mailbox. Although the bill was in her name, it did not belong to her. Subsequently, she received a Radio Shack bill not belonging to her, and a credit card that she did not order. When her current credit card bill failed to arrive, the woman contacted the credit card company and found that her credit limit had been reached.

Officer Lombardo advised her to tell the Post Office to hold her mail until her mailbox was secured and to notify her neighbors to do the same. Additionally, she should arrange to pick up her checks and statements directly from her bank, and report the identity theft to Social Security and to the three major credit reporting bureaus:

Equifax 800-685-1111

Trans Union 800-888-4213

Experian (TRW) 800-422-4879

Also, absent any i.d. theft, it's a wise practice to annually check your credit by requesting a copy of the report.

A Case of Bank Fraud

A 31-year-old man who attempted to open an account at Washington Mutual Bank using stolen identification on April 12 was thwarted by the 21-year-old worker who spotted the fraud and notified police. The suspect was in possession of i.d. and checks stolen from a 42-year-old Hayward man.

Officers Rosemary Castro and Manuel Solano responded and arrested the suspect, who was charged with six felonies, including burglary, theft of an access card, check theft, check forgery, and narcotics possession. He was held at county jail for six days, then released upon his promise to appear. However, when he missed his May 12 court date, the judge issued a $50,000 warrant for his arrest.

Hair Rage at Supercuts

On Tuesday, April 18, at about 5:30 p.m., many of you may have witnessed a fight in front of Supercuts on 24th Street. It began with an over-ring and ended with two men receiving citations for battery.

When a male customer purchased four items from the hair salon but was rung up for five, he became angry at the procedure used to correct the over-ring and exchanged insulting words with the staff before leaving the store with his purchase. Apparently, he then told his partner outside about the incident, and the partner entered the store to procure an apology. When the staff directed him to leave, the second man swept his arms over several display shelves, causing the products to be strewn on the floor (with some of their contents spilled on the rug). He then ran from the store with a worker in pursuit.

Intending to hold the man until police arrived, the worker took hold of the suspect's pullover, but was struck numerous times, sustaining injuries to his forehead, lip, elbow, and leg, from blows issued by both partners. The worker fought back until a second store worker and another customer separated the three men. The two partners then left the scene, walking east on 24th Street, with the worker following close behind. At this point, one of the pair allegedly grabbed a large rock and threatened the worker.

I was alerted to the incident by a passerby after the three men headed down 24th Street. I broadcast their description, and Officer Lorraine Lombardo contacted them at 24th and Vicksburg. Four more officers came to her assistance, and all parties were taken to Mission Station, where statements were written and the story unraveled.

The dissatisfied customer was cited to appear on a battery charge, while his partner was cited to appear on malicious mischief and battery. Both men were released upon promises to appear in court June 7.

Listen to the Judge

A 49-year-old man was arrested at 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, after he violated a restraining order by entering his former wife's house on the 900 block of Diamond Street. Officers Martha Juarez and Elena Teper arrested the man and booked him at Mission Station. He was transferred to county jail, and released the next day, pending his court date.

Party to an Arrest

When a noise complaint of a loud party drew police to the 1200 block of Castro Street at 2 a.m. on Monday, April 17, Officers Glenn Ortega and Sandford Taylor were confronted by a 26-year-old man covered in blood, who refused medical evaluation and the officers' entry to check on the well-being of those within the apartment. After he engaged in a physical struggle with another 26-year-old man, police arrested him, along with the second man, who also delayed the officers in performing their duties. Upon being put into the patrol car for transport to the station, the first man kicked at the window, spat through the wire-mesh divider onto the computer in the front seat, and threatened to kill Officer Ortega upon his release.

The first suspect was charged with two felonies, obstructing an officer in his duties and threatening harm, and two misdemeanors, resisting arrest and malicious mischief. The district attorney rebooked on all charges, and the suspect was held eight hours in jail until he posted bond. To date, he has made two court appearances. The second suspect was routed to county jail and released when the district attorney withdrew the complaint against him.

Hold On to That Wallet

On Saturday, April 1, at 11 p.m., a 21-year-old man was arrested on 24th Street after he and another man stole a wallet from a woman's purse while she played pool inside Kennedy's Bar at 25th and Church streets.

Although one suspect fled before police arrived, Officers Jose Lopez and Thomas Johnson arrested the second suspect, who led police to his partner's vehicle where the woman's wallet was found.

Officers recovered the wallet, towed the vehicle, and booked the suspect on felony conspiracy (since he allegedly acted with another), misdemeanor theft (as the woman was not near her wallet at the time of the theft), and an outstanding felony narcotics warrant. The district attorney declined to file charges at this time.

Ouch! Scratch Graffiti Is Back

Businesses on 24th Street were targeted by a scratch graffiti vandal who used a pointed tool to carve letters into several large pane-glass windows sometime during the night of Thursday, April 20. The scratcher is still at large.

Where Are They Now?

Larry Kraft, the man known as "the Termite" because of his method of burglarizing businesses, was sentenced May 3 to 16 months in state prison, with 92 days credit for time served. He will again be on parole for burglary -- what else? -- upon his release.

Kraft's most recent arrest came in February of this year when the owner of Peasant Pies captured him red-handed, carrying the store's cash register away.

Michael Jaro, who initially called himself Francisco Strap upon his arrest in December 1999 for burglary of a house on the 1000 block of Dolores, was sentenced May 25 to six years in state prison for burglary, plus two years for possession of stolen property, to run concurrently, with 171 days credit for time served.

His companion, Roberto Aquirre, got one year in county prison, with 171 days credit for time served and three years of probation.

As for the 31-year-old man charged with hit-and-run and reckless driving in December 1999 after he struck several parked vehicles at Church and 22nd streets, he was found guilty of reckless driving, a misdemeanor, which may be reduced to an infraction pending his driving behavior over the next six months.

Unsafe at Any Speed

When a 36-year-old woman in her car refused my order to exit the 24th and Castro bus zone and was cited on April 7 at 4:50 p.m., then backed up in the zone, with the bus alongside, backed around the intersection's corner without regard to pedestrians, and then ran the red light, I noted her license plate, wrote a reckless driving report, and called Inspector Jim Bosch of our Hit-and-Run division. After contacting the driver and interviewing her, Inspector Bosch explained that her actions subjected her to a misdemeanor charge and a date in court.

But in light of her later efforts to take responsibility for her actions, I have cited her for unsafe parking, an infraction, and left it at that. A wise officer once said, "You give a ticket or a lecture. Not both."

Let's continue to watch out for one another. I'll see you on patrol.

San Francisco Police Officer Lois Perillo covers her Noe Valley beat-- from Valencia to Grand View and 21st to Cesar Chavez -- on foot and on bicycle. If you would like to discuss a crime or safety problem, call her at 558-5404, the community policing line at Mission Station.