HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — Hendersonville Police say are cracking down on a scam targeting and robbing elderly victims all across the state.
It's known as the "grandparent scam." Scammers call an elderly person pretending to be a frantic grandchild in jail and in need of money for bonds and fees.
Police were able to find the suspects and make arrests.
On Monday, Hendersonville Police received and began investigating a report related to an elderly Hendersonville resident who had received a phone call that day from a person impersonating the victim’s grandson who stated that they were in jail.
Police say Herrera Alonzo Bienvenido, 28, of Miami, FL. Bienvenido and Jorge Baglan Pichardo, 42, of Miami, FL impersonated the victim’s grandson who stated that they were in jail and the other was an attorney.
Police say the voice claiming to be the grandson’s attorney then stated that their grandson had been in an auto accident out of state that resulted in the death of another person and as a result, the victim’s grandson had been charged and was in jail. The “attorney” then told the victim that the judge has placed a gag order on the case so no one can be contacted, and it cannot be talked about with anyone else.
The suspect on the phone provided explanations of how money was needed for the victim’s grandson’s bond and to pay associated costs, fees, and fines to lessen the sentence.
The suspect on the phone gave instructions that cash was needed and described how to box up the cash for pickup. The suspect then arranged for a courier to pick up the cash from the victim’s home.
"It was very unusual because usually when money changes hands in these scams it's overseas so the money changes hands electronically through gift cards through money being wired something like that, it's never picked up in person," Sgt. Neal Harris said, "in this case, when we saw that someone had come in person picked up the money we're thinking, that's got to be our suspect. So we started looking into that person. And sure enough, that person has nothing to do with a scam."
This courier then delivered the money to another person in another location. This incident, and another one reported on Tuesday, June 8th from another elderly Hendersonville resident, had the same set of facts and each of them resulted in over ten thousand dollars in cash being stolen from each victim.
"The majority of them [scams] are usually linked to outside the United States. So that is not at all unusual so usually, when we sit down and start investigating them our first thought is, you know, more than likely this is going to lead us out of the country and our hands are going to kind of be tied," said Sgt. Neal Harris, "Sometimes, like in this case, we start investigating and sure enough, there is something we can do because it points to our own backyard. And that's what happened here."
Harris said detectives revealed that the couriers used to transport the packages had no knowledge of the criminal activity and that they were Uber drivers who were picking up and delivering the packages as part of their job.
After completing the first theft from the first reported victim the voice on the phone continued to contact the victim to set up another, and much larger payment he stated was needed to help complete the process of paying the fees needed to help his grandson out of legal trouble.
On Tuesday, Hendersonville Detectives took over this transaction in order to help identify or capture the suspects involved.
This transaction led to the 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville where after taking possession of the next package of stolen money, a suspect led police on a brief foot chase before being taken into custody in the parking lot.
As a result, Baglan-Pichardo was arrested right there. Bienvenido got away from detectives.
On Wednesday detectives continued the investigation into the scams and identify a second suspect, Bienvenido
Hendersonville Police say Bienvenido fled from a Smyrna area hotel after the arrest of Baglan-Pichardo and was headed back to South Florida.
Hendersonville Detectives coordinated efforts with the Florida Highway Patrol and the Broward County, Florida Sheriff’s Office for assistance in locating Bienvenido.
Bienvenido was taken into custody at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport by the Florida Highway Patrol.
"Our goal at this point is to really get the word out to the community. Just in the last few days since we've started putting the word out about this case," Harris said, "we've gotten a lot of calls from members of the community, both in Hendersonville and from surrounding cities throughout Middle Tennessee, people who have been victimized by this who have lost a lot of money.
A large sum of cash was recovered from Bienvenido at the time of his arrest. The suspects have been charged by Hendersonville Police with Theft over $10,000 (x2), Attempted Theft over $10,000, Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Person (x2).
Bienvenido is being held in Florida pending extradition back to Sumner County. Baglan-Pichardo is being held in Sumner County Jail on $150,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Sumner County General Sessions Court on June 23, 2021 at 9a.m.
"I've been in conversations with Uber over the last couple days, and from talking to Uber, this is not unique to our area. We've learned that this has occurred all throughout the eastern half of the United States primarily with a lot of it being in Florida, up through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, into Wisconsin and Massachusetts," said Harris.
Hendersonville Police would ask anyone who has been a victim of a similar incident to report that to your local law enforcement agency. Anyone with information on these cases please call and report that information to the Hendersonville Police Criminal Investigation Division at (615)264-5303 or the Hendersonville Crime Stoppers at (615)594-4113. Tips may also be submitted using the P3 Tips Mobile Application