Taken for a Ride

How an impressionable young fellow got himself scammed by a British con man. And how he got revenge.

I knew it was a long shot. I didn't even have an address, but I did have a feeling that I would eventually find him.

January 9 First thing in the morning I drove to the downtown Fort Lauderdale library to look for a reverse telephone directory. I would trace Sir Peter's phone number to an address. It didn't work. The number was unlisted. So I called his home number and spoke to a woman who had answered Sir Peter's phone previously. After I calmly explained the situation, she advised me to wait until Monday when the banks were open. I also called Sir Peter's cell phone several times, leaving progressively more forceful messages.

Then I went to the Hallandale police. A tired-looking officer wearing a cast on his arm took my statement in the station lobby. The officer told me to cease my search. But if Sir Peter called me, I should play along. And oh yes, a detective would contact me early in the week.

I didn't follow the officer's order to stop looking for Sir Peter. I headed to the best place to find a con man (and possibly change one's luck): Gulfstream Park, which happens to be right across the street from the police station. I paid five dollars to enter the clubhouse. If Sir Peter were there, he would surely be blowing my cash first-class.

But the ponies proved to be as elusive as Sir Peter. I lost ten bucks.
January 10 Sir Peter called me in the evening and again apologized. He said he had the worst weekend of his life and pledged everything would be settled on Monday. He also informed me that his brother had returned to London after they had an argument.

I don't know why he called. Perhaps he wanted more money. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him, because it meant I wouldn't have to look for him. Now that we were in contact, I was certain I could lure him into some type of trap. Somehow he would pay.

January 11 Exactly one week after our first lunch, Sir Peter called to suggest a meeting. He said he would have my $500 at 3:00 p.m. The place: Bennigan's.

Impossibly, unbelievably, he didn't bring the money. He asked to borrow $2500 so he could get $30,000 worth of jewelry out of hock. He again described his horrible weekend. He had pawned the stuff to pay a furniture manufacturer for an interior-design job. Tears welled up in his eyes as he described leaving behind his very expensive rings, chains, and bracelets. He had walked around all weekend counting his cigarettes. He had but three dollars in his pocket. His voice cracked as he told me that my angry messages had torn at his heart. He had no desire to hurt me. If I helped one last time, he would turn things around.

Again he attributed the problems to his wife Beverly. She had switched his checkbooks, then swiped his American Express card and the design fee. He couldn't ask his family for money. They had warned him not to return to Beverly after the first separation.

My reply: I couldn't help him, and I didn't know anyone who could.
He requested that I think about it and told me not to worry. A friend who owned a yacht dealership would lend him some cash. Then he would pay me back.

I asked him about the Lincoln his sons were to have given me. He nearly sobbed as he grabbed my arm and said, "Larry, Larry, look me in the eye. That car is yours."

I didn't mention that I had contacted the police, but I did pick up the bill. Ten dollars.

Although I knew he was lying, it choked me up to see an old man holding back tears. I almost felt sorry for him. I thought perhaps he even had some mental problems. I also considered the possibility that I wasn't the only one he'd swindled. So I dug into the records of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Sir Peter, who is 63 years old, has a criminal past in Miami-Dade County that dates back to 1980. He's been charged with 23 crimes and convicted eleven times. Six of those charges are still pending from an August 1998 DUI, his fourth. He allegedly drove the wrong way in a parking lot, hit two vehicles, and kept going until a patrol car pulled him over. The police report states that Sir Peter fell down twice during his roadside examination and could not walk without assistance. To make matters worse, his license had been revoked for ten years in 1991. He shouldn't even have been behind the wheel. A hearing on these charges is scheduled for May 3 in Miami.

This past November police again pulled over Sir Peter and arrested him for DUI. Sir Peter drove through a red light in Hallandale. A cop was behind him. After he was thrown in the clink, he posted the $11,000 bond that gave him the freedom to meet me on the side of the Julia Tuttle Causeway on New Year's Eve. He is scheduled to appear in a Broward Court on April 5 for a hearing on these charges.

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