Victim or scammer? A tale of a fake check and an honored ex-offender

The man needed a job, and so he said that when the bank check for $1,950 arrived in the mail, he jumped at the accompanying offer to become a mystery shopper.

All he had to do was cash the check and send someone connected with the company part of the money as a Western Union money transfer. The rest was for him to use for mystery shopping to evaluate businesses, he was told. Afterward, he’d file reports about his experiences. Simple enough.

On Nov. 9, he went to his bank, Bank of America, but employees there told him they couldn’t cash the check. Since it appeared to be a Wells Fargo check, he was told to go there.

At a Wells Fargo branch in DeSoto, he was told to have a seat. Fifteen minutes later, a DeSoto police officer walked up to him and said, “Sir, can you stand and put your hands behind your back, please?”

“What?” the man asked.

As first reported in the Dave Lieber column in the Dec. 20, 2009 Watchdog column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the man was arrested on suspicion of forgery of a financial instrument. On Nov. 30, he was indicted by a Dallas grand jury.

This is the first time I’ve seen a case where the apparent victim of a scam is arrested. But there are two important facts that must be disclosed.

Alfred Hitchcock made a 1956 movie about a man falsely accused of a crime.

Alfred Hitchcock made a 1956 movie about a man falsely accused of a crime.

First, the arrested man is Randolph Shaheed, 59, who in the late 1960s was one of Fort Worth’s most notorious gangster killers. He served 15 years in prison and is now on parole for life. (Watch a Mickey Grant documentary about him here.)

Second, he is one of the most honored ex-offenders in Texas. Two days before his arrest, the Dallas office of the state Parole Division held its annual Success Celebration, at which Shaheed was honored for helping ex-offenders succeed after they are freed.

When I asked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to describe the award he received, the agency released a 171-word statement that describes his good deeds, calls him the ideal client and says he is “trying to promote positive change.”

How much Shaheed’s criminal record contributed to his current predicament is hard to say. He has a court date Tuesday, and the charges could be sorted out then. When I asked about his case, the DeSoto police and the Dallas County district attorney’s office mentioned his criminal background.

Shaheed said that when the mystery shopper offer arrived, he was in a confused state because his 20-year-old daughter, from whom he was estranged, had died suddenly Nov. 5.

At the time, he said he wasn’t aware that the mystery shopper ploy is a common scam. Targets of the scam are told to cash a check and send a portion of it to the purported mystery shopping company. The Federal Trade Commission says on its Web site: “The truth is that it is unnecessary to pay money to anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. ?.?.?.? Consumers who try to get a refund from promoters of mystery shopping jobs usually are out of luck. Either the business doesn’t return the phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another pitch.”

Shaheed showed me e-mails from a Fred Mcguire of New York. (Read them here.) Shaheed said he believed that the e-mails were authentic — but they fit the classic scam. The best clue that something was wrong came in the task that Mcguire assigned him: Shaheed was supposed to visit his neighborhood Western Union office and describe all the mechanics of wire transfers from that office, including the name of money agents on duty.

When police confronted him at the bank, Shaheed said “he was a mystery shopper on the Internet,” according to a police report.

He spent four days in jail before his wife posted bail.

He is being represented by a public defender who didn’t return my calls.

Once released, Shaheed called Fred Mcguire in New York to tell him what happened.

“There’s something funny about the number,” he told me. “It just rang as if it were a phone booth or something.”

Shaheed has tried to explain that he was the intended victim of a scam.

“Doesn’t anyone want to listen to me?” he asked. “I’ve presented all the proof. I thought it was a check, brother. You know what I mean? I thought I was getting a part-time job.”

At Wells Fargo, the teller suspected that the check Shaheed presented was fraudulent, bank spokeswoman Helen Bow said. “She immediately notified the Police Department,” Bow said. She declined to answer other questions, referring The Watchdog to police investigators.

DeSoto police Capt. Ron Smith is skeptical of Shaheed’s story. “Don’t believe everything you hear,” Smith said. Although he acknowledged he had not reviewed the case file, Smith said he would be surprised if Shaheed was the victim of a scam.

In 1969, Shaheed, then known as Randolph Brown, killed a grocery store clerk in a bungled robbery attempt. Later that night, he attempted another robbery. All told, he shot at seven people, killing one and wounding two.

He was already infamous. Two years earlier, he had walked onto a Fort Worth bus holding a knife. When the driver kicked him and a friend off, he punched the driver, who started shooting. His friend was killed. He turned himself in on television at KXAS/Channel 5.

He was convicted of murder for the 1969 slaying and sent to prison, and he was paroled in 1984. After his release, he made a deal with the FBI to go undercover to break up a drug ring. Afterward, he was temporarily placed in the witness protection program. He testified against 17 defendants, the Star-Telegram has reported. All were convicted.

Then he became a minister and worked on many anti-gang programs for kids — his new life’s work. For that he was honored by the Parole Division. Excerpts from its statement released to me last week:

“With the last three years, Randolph Brown has become an advocate for other offenders. In 2005, Brown started a program now called ‘Ex-Offender’s of America Alumni Association,’ or XOAAA, where prison ministry goes beyond prayer.

“Through his program, Brown uses his voice, gifts, talents and ministry to bring forth healing for ex-offenders and those affiliated with them. The program promotes employment searches, how to get a job, finance management, spiritual counseling and more.

“The XOAAA program does not benefit just offenders but crime victims and family members as well.”

Brown also organized the Coming Up Program in Fort Worth, the statement says.

After praising his work on a radio program and cable TV, the Parole Division concluded, “Offender is more than just an ideal client. He is an advocate for ex-offenders trying to promote positive change within our community.”

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. His book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

The Eight Ways I Was Scammed in 2009

A pal of mine just wrote me that he hasn’t been scammed since 1975. He said he wasn’t greedy, so he didn’t look for easy money. That’s why, he said, that he isn’t victimized.

I’m happy for him.

However, I don’t consider myself greedy. And I’ve been victimized eight times this year with annoying stuff that takes time to sort out. It doesn’t have to do with me being greedy. It’s about the inefficiencies, poor customer service and culture of greed that swirls around us.

I listed all the scams that penetrated my life this year in the second edition of my book that comes out next week — Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation (2nd edition, Revised and Expanded.)

Below is a sneak preview from the book — a double winner with two national book awards for social change in 2009. And I just noticed that this new page appears on page 13. Fitting.


Dave's 8 Scams in 2009 2