Scam alert: Fake holiday charities targeting millennials' emotions

Man pleads guilty to Butler County scam after attempting to flee to China

Ballerd Vinson pleaded guilty in December to aggravated theft, a third-degree felony, and obstructing official business, a fifth-degree felony. He faced up to three years in prison, and Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens sentenced him to five years community control and ordered him to repay the victim $39,559 on Feb. 3.

Assistant Butler County Prosecutor Garrett Baker said Vinson and an unnamed accomplice. Posing as Miami University students and using fictitious names, they convinced a then-72-year-old former teacher to invest in a nonprofit company they started called TESPA. They said the company helped educate underprivileged children. They gave her a a T-shirt and mouse pad they stole off a porch with the TESPA logo on it to bolster their scam, Baker said.

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She gave them about $25,000 in cash, and they got access to her Discover card and “went on a shopping spree” at shoe stores and Best Buy and paid for trips to San Diego and New York.

“There’s all sorts of Uber fees out in California for a 72-year-old woman who is living in Oxford,” Baker said. “It’s pretty clear what’s going on and they were being very liberal with that Discover card.”

Baker said the victim met Vinson’s partner through an acquaintance, and when she began distrusting him, he brought in Vinson.

“These guys, they saw somebody that was easy prey, somebody that was lonely,” he said.

Vinson was indicted on June 11 and charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony, and escape, a second degree felony. The escape charge came when he allegedly tried to flee from the police station when Oxford police were questioning him.

When he learned of the arrest warrant, Vinson fled to California, Baker said. Authorities there caught him as he was trying to board a flight to China.

“If he goes to China the chances of us getting him back, it was going to be difficult,” Baker said.

Baker said the police got a call from a federal agency tipping them about Vinson’s imminent departure because of the arrest warrant.

There is a warrant out for the other suspect, but he hasn’t been caught.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said accepting a plea from Vinson was a good decision because the victim was not in any condition to testify at trial. The plea deal involves Vinson agreeing to testify against his co-conspirator. Gmoser started a task force several years ago to protect seniors from scams like these.

“You pull this off in Butler County and we’ll pull you off the street,” he said. “We’ll catch you eventually and you’ll get prosecuted.”

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