Police see disturbing pattern of theft, scams of elders by drug users

May 7, 2016

One victim, 83-year-old Pat Durbin, describes how young adults convinced him they were his new fuel distributor and conned him out of perhaps $1000. 

Patrick Durbin, 83, lives alone at a tidy place on Nerka Loop. Police believe he was scammed by three people seeking money to fund drug habits.
Credit KDLG

KDLG:  Dillingham police are investigating three cases of elderly residents being robbed or scammed for drug money, and chief Dan Pasquariello believes more have occurred.

“There’s been a pattern recently, and it’s pretty much the same crowd of people, part of what we call the ‘milieu’, that are taking money from elderly people mostly likely to purchase controlled substances,” he said.

The cases involve theft using ATM cards or forged checks, and “flat out scamming” the elderly, said the chief.

“We’ve charged two individuals with theft where they approached an elder man, represented themselves as from a fuel company, and had the elder write them checks,” he said.

Sydnie Dawn Schlosser, 26, and Pearl Lucille Harless Lyle, 22, were charged with one count of third degree theft each. Police believe John Filipek, 27, was behind the scam, but because he doesn’t have a checking account, the evidence pointed only to his two alleged female accomplices.

The man these three targeted in their alleged fuel selling scam was Patrick Durbin, the retired city harbor master. Durbin keeps a tidy house on Nerka Loop where he lives alone. Discussing the matter Wednesday evening, he often chuckled about being duped.

“It’s a life lesson,” said the 83-year-old.  

Durbin began his story with an incident from three years ago, when he injured himself lifting a heavy stump in the yard. He finally sought medical care in Anchorage, spent three months there, and came home with medication to take.

“So I’m still on medication, and not thinking straight, and I got conned into giving money out, you know? And trouble of it is, I’m sitting there wondering about it, but I still went along with it,” he said, laughing a bit.

When the young adults he didn’t know approached him, they claimed to be his new fuel delivery company and were there to collect payment.

“I specifically asked, I said ‘I got that Delta Western, I’ve had ‘em for years.’ ‘Well they’re going out of business.’ They specifically said they were going out. ‘We’re taking over,’ direct statement. Well I said ‘how come they never sent me a notice?’ Little things like that I remember saying. So I questioned it. But somehow in the conversation they got me talked into it.”

Durbin believes they stole his money three times. Once he gave them cash, and twice he wrote checks for over $300.

“Yeah. Two of ‘em was on the same conversation, one after the other,” he said laughing. “That should’ve been a send-off to me right away, but the way I was thinking, you know.”

He checked his fuel tank regularly and realized no deliveries had been made, and eventually contacted Bristol Alliance Fuels to ask why they hadn’t delivered yet. The company helped Durbin realize he may have been scammed, and he contacted the police and his bank to see what could be done.

Having succeeded a few times, did his scammers try other ways to rob Durbin? He's not sure, but he laughed as he described coming home one day and interrupting what he does think was a theft of his fuel in progress.

“I think I did, you know, but you’re never for sure about these con games. They can catch me at my very gullible time. I’m only 83, but … what can they give me if I beat ‘em up? Twenty years? So that gives … 103? With room and board? That’s the way I’m looking at things now.  Otherwise I just don’t give a ... I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do when things happen. If I can catch it, with my mind. And I’m pretty good, most of the time.”

KDLG has reported other instances of crime tied to drug habits, including last month when several on the front lines of Dillingham's drug abuse issues discussed the theft and even sex trafficking they see happening. Last year a Dillingham man was convicted of stealing from a dying man who had hired him to work around his house, admitting he needed the money to fund an addiction. And in recent conversations with village leadership in Togiak, including as reported when the tribe banished a Dillingham man from town, they say elders there are being frequently robbed of money and goods to support drug habits.

“There’s always been thefts here,” said DPD’s Pasquariello. “Years ago, when I first started, people stole money to buy alcohol. The thief could get their daily dose of alcohol for, say, $20.  If you’re a heroin addict, it’s going to cost you at least $100 a day to get your daily dose of heroin, maybe more.”

Pasquariello said more charges will likely be coming, but he suspects authorities will only see the tip of the iceberg of similar activity. Some elders may never know they've been robbed or scammed, and some may be ashamed to admit it or report their relatives. 

“We’re talking about it so people can be wary, and perhaps not to be as trusting as they once have been in our small community,” said the chief. 

Contact the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281