Iola grandmother loses $20,000 to fraud
Scam investigated in three counties, two states
By Robert Cloud
A man in Waupaca County jail on a $200,000 cash bond is accused of scamming elderly people in three Wisconsin counties and in the state of New York.
William T. Comfort, 27, Los Angeles, is charged in Waupaca County with felony theft by false representation.
According to the criminal complaint, an Iola woman received a call on May 4 from someone claiming to be her grandson.
The caller told her that he had been arrested and was in handcuffs at the police station in Miami, Florida.
He said he needed $20,000 in cash to pay his bail or he would be held in jail until his court appearance in six to eight weeks.
He gave her a phone number for a lawyer he claimed would arrange to post the bond.
The grandmother called the lawyer’s number, who told her that the bond was to guarantee her grandson’s court appearance and that bail for an out-of-state arrest required cash. He said the federal courthouse in Miami would reimburse the cash within three to five days.
The purported lawyer also advised her not to tell the bank why she needed $20,000 in cash.
The Iola grandmother was told that she could not reach her grandson because the police had confiscated his cell phone.
Swindler gets cash
She spoke with her daughter, who withdrew the $20,000 from the victim’s Iola bank account, then called the lawyer and informed him she had the cash.
The lawyer said a Stevens Point bondsman would drive to the daughter’s home to pick up the money, then transport it to a federal courthouse in Green Bay.
The bondsman arrived a short time later. He was described as about 5-foot-10, husky with blonde hair, wearing a Bass Pro Shops trucker cap, a camouflage jacket and a black-cloth covid mask.
He had no paperwork, so she asked him to sign a piece of paper as her receipt. She couldn’t read his signature and he refused to print his name for her. He then drove away with the $20,000 in cash.
The following day, the daughter was unable to reach the lawyer by phone.
She spoke to her sister and learned that the grandson was at college studying for his final exams.
Comfort is accused of running the same “grandparent scam” to bilk a Taylor County woman out of $9,500 on May 5.
Roving con artist
He is also charged with three counts of felony theft by false representation in Marathon County.
Three separate people were scammed on May 6.
A Rib Mountain couple told investigators that a woman claiming to be their granddaughter called and said she had been involved in a fatal car crash.
They then spoke with a man who claimed to be a lawyer. The purported lawyer said the granddaughter needed $18,000 for a cash bond. The bondsman then came to their home to pick up the cash.
Another Rib Mountain woman fell victim to the same scam. After a courier picked up $18,000 from her, the lawyer called back and said he needed another $12,000. This time, she became suspicious, called her granddaughter, learned there had been no crash and no arrest and called police.
A third woman in Marathon County reported being scammed out of $16,000 on the same day.
Because the daughter of the Iola victim wrote down the bondsman’s license plate number, investigators were able to trace the vehicle to a car rental business in Appleton.
Investigators identify suspect
Iola Police Chief Paul Zierler told the Waupaca County Post that law enforcement agencies set up an email list so that investigators could share information.
Zierler gave the suspect’s license plate number to a Taylor County detective who contacted the car rental business.
The detective then sent a photo of Comfort’s California driver’s license, as well as photos of Comfort inspecting the vehicle on May 2 and returning it on May 6.
On June 22, an elderly woman called the police in Colonie, New York, and reported what she thought was a scam.
She said a man claiming to be an attorney was coming to her apartment to collect money for a cash bond for her granddaughter. By the time Comfort arrived, police were already there waiting for him.
Comfort was arrested and charged with grand larceny and as a fugitive from justice because of the Wisconsin warrants for his arrest.
He was subsequently extradited to Waupaca County, where he is currently being held in custody.