For release on May 17, 2013
Cherie Bourlard, Deputy District Attorney
Elder Fraud Unit
YOUNG WOMAN’S SHAM MARRIAGE TO ELDERLY MAN NETS $350,000; DA STING NETS SWEETHEART SCAMMER
Arrested last night during a District Attorney’s Sweetheart Scam sting operation at a San Jose hotel, a 26-year-old woman has been charged with tricking an 85-year-old man into marrying her, and then bilking him of his life savings.
The woman pretended to be a cash-poor interior decorator in the process of renovating two East Coast hotels. An investigation by the D.A.’s Office showed that one of the hotels was not being renovated - and the other didn’t exist. Gina Mitchell turned out to be an already common law-married scam artist with children who ended up stealing more than $350,000 from the infirm man. She was arrested Thursday night trying to get more.
Mitchell, of Sherman Oaks, is charged with Theft by False Pretense of an Elder and Aggravated Criminal White Collar Taking. She is scheduled to be arraigned next week. If convicted, she faces up to six years in prison.
“Sweetheart scams” - in which people romantically manipulate vulnerable, often elderly, victims into giving up their money – are increasingly being reported in Santa Clara County.
Prosecutor Cherie Bourlard cautioned families and friends of elderly singles to “Be involved and know what your parent or grandparent is up to. Visit them. Ask them if they are dating anybody, and then look into it, research who they are.”
Bourlard said: “The sad fact is that there are people who criminally prey upon the lonely, using their hearts to get at their bank accounts.”
In June, 2012, Mitchell met the victim, a Clayton man, waiting in line at a grocery store. Mitchell told the elderly man that she was a single interior designer. She said she was restoring and decorating two hotels in Boston and had fallen behind in making payments for labor and materials. Led to believe he was partnering in her business, the victim gave Mitchell $50,000 and, then an additional $217,000 for the “hotel jobs.” The two were married that November. Mitchell never moved into the victim’s home, but called him frequently, claiming to be in the Boston area, and asking for money. The victim complied. As the elder was recovering in a convalescent hospital, his family members – who did not at first realize the victim had even married - suspected he had been scammed. They learned of other similar-type scams prosecuted in Santa Clara County so they called the District Attorney’s Office for help.
D.A. Investigator Dennis Brookins determined the hotel jobs were fictional and that none of the phone calls made by Mitchell to the victim were from the Boston area. When Mitchell arranged to meet the victim at a local hotel for $7,000 more Thursday night, Brookins and other D.A. investigators were there waiting. The investigator confiscated the diamond wedding ring the victim had given her. In her purse he found her real ring.