An angry Side Streets reader, furious that a con artist was cheating money from military veterans, contacted police Monday, triggering a seven-hour investigation that led to the arrest of man on suspicion of theft.
Stan Kline tells me he was inspired to call Colorado Springs Police on Monday after his wife, Georgia Moen, read my report in Monday’s Side Streets of a con artist who bilked Marie VanRemortel of Mountain Shadows of $40 using a ruse that he was a military veteran down on his luck.
“I was also the victim of his con game and it incensed me as a retired military officer, to learn that this indivdiual was targeting retired military and ex-military citizens,” Kline said.
Kline said he was taken in by a con artist who approached him at his home two weeks ago. The stranger said his car had broken down and he needed a ride to the American Legion post and the Veteran’s Administration office.
Kline asked to see identification and the stranger flashed an American Legion card. Kline said he made note of the name, Perry W. Suggs, and agreed to drive him to the legion post.
When the stranger was uanble to get cash at the post, Kline said he withdrew $240 from his bank and intended to give it to the stranger.
“But he didn’t have a driver’s license or a second I.D.,” Kline said. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Kline made one more stop at a drug store where he left the stranger in his car with the cash. Then he dropped the man off. It wasn’t until he got home that Kline noticed $80 missing from his bank withdrawal envelope.
On Monday, Kline called police and filed a report of the theft.
It was a huge help that Kline remembered the name on the I.D. card. Kline said Officer Pete Tomitsch arranged a photo lineup and asked him to identify Suggs in a mug shot from a previous arrest.
Another big break came around 3 p.m. when another reader, A.J. Stephenson, was cleaning her car in the driveway of her Country Club neighborhood home.
“I went inside and the doorbell rang,” Stephenson said.
At her door was a man with a now-familiar story.
But Stephenson wasn’t fooled, wouldn’t let him in the house and when he left, she called police. Tomitsch responded, showed her a photo lineup and she picked him out immediately.
Within a half hour, Tomitsch had arrested Suggs. It was his 49th birthday.
Tomitsch credited the keen eyes of Kline and Stephenson for helping him crack the case.
“They get the credit,” Tomitsch said. “They paid attention to details and got me important information.”
Even so, it took him hours and visits to six former residences before a computer search finally produced a good address for Suggs. And Suggs didn’t confess immediately.
“Initially he was standoffish,” Tomitsch said. “I told him I had several witnesses who identified him. I told him the story he was using on all these different people. And I told him his story was in the Gazette. I offered to show it to him.”
Faced with arrest, Tomitsch said, Suggs confessed to stealing $80 from Kline and was cited by the officer with misdemeanor theft.
“He showed a lot of remorse,” Tomitsch said, explaining more serious charges were not filed because “it’s not a crime to lie.” He compared Sugg’s alleged actions to a panhandler who lies to get handouts on a street corner.
A more serious charge of theft by fraud or deceit is possible in some cases but difficult to prove, Tomitsch said.
Once news of the arrest hit, other Side Streets readers said they recognized Suggs as the same man who came to them with near identical pleas for cash.
I’ve heard from residents of Quail Lake area, Stratmoor Hills, Country Club and Mountain Shadows since my first report.
Each told the same story of a vet needing a ride to the American Legion or VA office. One gave him $60, another $130, yet another $220. Some said Suggs was accompanied by a younger man he introduced as his son.
Moen told me she was especially touched by the story told by VanRemortel, who lives in Mountain Shadows neighborhood, site of the Waldo Canyon fire last summer. Two people died and nearly 350 homes were destroyed when the wildfire swept into the neighborhood.
“Stan and I lived in Mountain Shadows,” Moen said. “We lost our home in the fire. I thought ‘Oh great. Somebody is up there stealing.’ It hits close to home.”
All the victims praised VanRemortel for alerting everyone in the first place, telling her story in Monday’s paper.