Taken for a Ride

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

When Sir Peter wasn't causing problems behind the wheel, he managed to remain busy. He has five convictions in Miami-Dade for second-degree grand theft and four convictions for uttering a forged instrument (writing bad checks). One of his second-degree grand-theft convictions came when he lifted a ring from a jewelry store in 1981. He was sentenced to three years.

Police nabbed him for petty theft and uttering a forged instrument in 1989 when he stole a checkbook from an elderly interior-design client and then signed her name on a check. Court records indicate Sir Peter was supposed to decorate the client's condo with antiques but instead used cheap imitations. He was convicted of several other crimes in 1989.

One of his greatest hustles occurred in 1991 and involved an 83-year-old widow. Posing as a stockbroker, Sir Peter wined and dined the North Miami woman and professed his love for her during 4:00 a.m. phone calls. He convinced her to give him $20,000 to invest, then left to buy groceries. He never returned. A judge found him guilty of organized fraud and after considering the 1989 cases, gave him eight years.

January 12 A Hallandale detective called me at 8:15 a.m. and said police were looking for Peter Zage. The gentle Brit had passed a couple of bad checks at a check-cashing store in Hallandale, he said, so I would probably not get my money back. I described Sir Peter's request for $2500 and the detective suggested a ploy: I should say a friend had the cash, arrange a meeting, and we would nab him.

So I called Sir Peter and told him I had a friend who could lend him $2500. But I told him that I wouldn't consider asking him for the money unless I saw some good faith. He would have to pay me $500. Sir Peter said I would have my money the next afternoon.

I can't say I expected to get my money back. But I was hopeful nonetheless. And though I didn't like dealing with either cops or crooks, I was now involved with both. Of course the cops didn't know I would try to swindle Sir Peter, and Sir Peter didn't know I was working with the cops.

January 13 Sir Peter and I spoke by telephone several times. He promised to pay me. Pretending to believe him was growing tedious. A week had passed since he had given me the second of his bad checks at Bennigan's. I decided to forget my money. I wanted to see him in jail.

So I told him I'd call my friend with the money. Sir Peter jumped on it.
January 14 I called back the police and we set up the sting. At noon I gave a statement to a Hallandale detective. Naturally I was a little nervous. Sir Peter was a pro. What if he carried a gun? Perhaps he had a very mean streak I hadn't seen yet.

We met at Bennigan's at 2:00 p.m. Once again he was dressed very nicely, as if he had just come from the country club. I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and asked how he was, and thought: This must be how he feels, putting people on all the time.

He seemed anxious, but all business. When he described his many woes, I chuckled to myself, realizing he had no idea of the misery ahead. As we sat at the bar talking, two detectives walked in. Sir Peter spotted them immediately and fell silent. He watched them as they walked over. I kept my eyes on Sir Peter.

"Peter Zage?" one of the detectives asked.
"Yes," Sir Peter responded.
"You're under arrest."
"What for?" Sir Peter demanded with outrage.
"Writing bad checks."
Then Sir Peter looked at me.
"Did you do this?" he asked angrily.
"Yep, you horrible old man."
He lowered his head and the detectives took him outside.

These days Sir Peter is locked up in the Broward County stockade, unable to make the $10,000 bond. His public defender, Tracey Redd, will not comment on his case.

Though my good deed resulted in a rocky start to the new year, seeing Zage in cuffs made it all worthwhile. I had triumphed. Sure he got $500, but he lost his freedom. That's not a very good trade.

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