Four arrested in 'Grandparent Scam' that netted $162K

The state Attorney General's Office has arrested two Philadelphia men, a Montgomery County woman and a New York man for running a "Grandparent Scam," in which they allegedly bilked at least $162,600 from 11 senior citizens in eight states.

Besides the $162,600 lost, the suspects also are accused of trying to steal $37,325 more by snookering victims into thinking they were paying money to help troubled grandchildren, according to the Attorney General's Office. One victim, a woman from Texas, was allegedly defrauded of $64,900, according to the office.

Arrested today were Spencer Compas, 29, of Etting Street near Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia; Witson Lavilette, 38, Roosevelt Boulevard near F Street in Crescentville; Johanne Wesh, 37, of Abington; and her brother Kens Wesh, 38, of Brooklyn, N.Y. All were charged with corrupt organizations, criminal conspiracy, identity theft and theft by deception. Compas, Lavilette and Wesh are being held on $1 million bail, pending an Aug. 21 preliminary hearing. Wesh remains on the lam; he's believed to be in New York City, and police are hunting him.

The nine-month investigation began when a 77-year-old California man told police he paid $6,600 to a caller who  claimed to be his grandson's attorney. The grandson, the scammer told the victim, had been arrested for drunk-driving in Philadelphia and needed bail money and attorney's fees. But when the scammer called again and demanded $10,000 more, the victim realized he'd been scammed and his grandson hadn't been arrested.

Police launched an undercover sting. A law enforcement agent posting as a postman delivered a package supposedly containing the $10,000 to a home on West Albanus Street in Olney. When Compas took the package, officers arrested him. Further investigation led authorities to the other suspects.

"The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania shut down a scam that’s as sinister as it is pervasive," Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said. "This swindle creates false fears among our senior citizens that their loved ones are in some kind of serious trouble and urgently need their help. They then dupe these unsuspecting, well-intentioned victims into transferring money to them. These seniors just wanted to help, but all the scam artists intended to do was steal."

She added: "Fortunately, these four won’t be stealing from anyone for a long time to come. But they are not the only ones out there preying on people’s fears, and their scam underscores the need for vigilance."

The "Grandparent Scam" is a common scam targeting the elderly, costing unsuspecting victims nationally $42 million, according to a Federal Trade Commission estimate.

Kane's office believes this particular scam could have other victims. Anyone who believes that they were defrauded by these four suspects after sending (or being asked to send) money to an address in Philadelphia, Abington or Bronx, New York, should contact the Office of Attorney General's Organized Crime Section in Norristown at (610) 631-5937.