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Sylivia Stanley of Hope Valley was a target of a state wide scam where callers say they are sheriffs and claim the person owes a fine. Sylvia did not fall for it but said it sounded real. ( Christine Corrigan / The Westerly Sun)

Fake police working a jury arrest scam in Rhode Island

HOPE VALLEY — “Lt. Jonathan Jenkins” informed Sylvia Stanley he was from the Bristol County sheriff’s office and the reason for his call was that Stanley, the 70-year-old fire chief’s wife, had committed a federal offense by not appearing for jury duty. The “federal court officer” said there was an active federal warrant out for her arrest.

He then rattled off a few facts, including her address, that her husband works in a government capacity (longtime fire chief of the Hope Valley-Wyoming Fire District), his own badge number and other indications that he possessed at least some official knowledge.

Stanley, who worked in corporate settings as a secretary for many years, said she was skeptical right from the beginning.

Firing back as many questions as the faux-sheriff had for her, she asked him why she had never received a notice that she was being summoned to appear.

She also asked why she would not be told to report to the federal courthouse in Providence. Stanley also took copious notes as the “lieutenant” continued his spiel.

Stanley said that even with the discrepancies, there appeared to be at least a little validity to what he was saying. The caller, who appeared to be using a local number, began to get more aggressive as he explained how she could get out of the jam in which she found herself.

Jenkins said she could avoid arrest by paying a $2,000 fine for missing the court date. He said $1,000 was for the failure to appear charge and another $1,000 for exempting her from jury duty. Stanley said she was also told that she had a maximum of two hours to pay the fine.

As Stanley continued to ask questions, Jenkins said he would transfer her to his supervisor Maj. Thomas Wilson, Badge 72. Wilson, warning Stanley that the phone call was being recorded, advised her to go to Walmart and buy two, $1,000 gift cards.

At the same time, Wilson requested her cellphone number so he could track her by GPS to contact her once she had the cards.

Stanley said she would take her two hours to call her lawyer, husband and the local police.

At this, she said “Wilson” became angry and said she needed to immediately agree to pay or “federal agents would be at her residence in 10 minutes to take her into custody.”

She hung up the phone and called Hopkinton police.

When the police arrived at Stanley’s home, they had her call the phone number that the men claimed to have been from the courthouse in Bristol, R.I. In fact, it was a number belonging to a woman who was nearly scammed a day earlier by the same men.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has warned residents of the scam, and has asked those who receive similar calls to contact local police to report the incident.

Kilmartin said residents should be aware of several red flags associated with this scam. The jury commissioner’s office does not issue arrest warrants for those who fail to appear for jury duty. If someone fails to appear, a court official will contact the person and reschedule or excuse the individual based on the circumstances.

If an arrest warrant is issued for an individual, law enforcement does not contact them to let them know it exists, Kilmartin said. In addition, there is no law enforcement agency that will allow an individual to post bail by credit card over the telephone to avoid being arrested.

Sheriffs are a division of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety and primarily work with the courts.

Rhode Island does not have county-based sheriff’s departments.

State and local police continue to investigate the scam.

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