Believing he has won a multimillion-dollar lottery prize, Paul heads to the airport to claim his winnings. When he returns empty-handed, his son Brad learns that his father has wired $50,000 in prize fees to criminals outside the country. Despite Brad’s efforts to convince his father of the scam, Paul remains optimistic the prize money is still coming and sends even more money, nearly $150,000. Desperate, Brad enlists the help of a police detective and becomes conservator of his parents’ finances. But to Brad’s dismay, this is only the beginning.
[00:00:00] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:02] Brad Simpson: He said, "I'm going to the airport to meet a man who's going to give me a multimillion-dollar prize."
[00:00:08] Brad Simpson: We actually had a confrontation right at the MoneyGram counter. I begged the people there at the counter not to send money for him and I told them that my father was sending money to crooks.
[00:00:19] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. We've brought you a lot of stories through the years about people who think they've won a lottery or fallen in love, and send money overseas believing that a small payment will let them bring home their prize, or their loved one. And these stories are often also about the families who try to intervene. But today, we bring you the story of a son's years long struggle to get his father to stop sending money to criminals in Jamaica, but when all the money dries up, the criminals don't give up. And this story takes a really unexpected turn. Now the family has to worry, why is our dad so dead set on helping these criminals? Here's our story: Lottery Victim Turns Money Mule.
[00:01:15] One day when I was speaking with my mother in the, the living room, and my dad came downstairs dressed a little better than usual for a weekday, you know, I asked him, I said, "Well, uh, hey, hey Pop, you know, what's with, what's with the sweater and slacks, you know, what's the occasion?" And I thought maybe he was going to meet the guys from church for coffee or, or maybe he was going to an increasing number of you know, another, yet another memorial service, you know for an, for an older acquaintance, but he said, "No," he said, "I'm going to the airport to meet a man who's going to give me a multimillion-dollar prize."
[00:01:52] Bob: That’s Brad Simpson talking about his dad, Paul Simpson. And the day both their lives, really their entire family, changed forever. But before we go forward, let's go back a little. Brad is the youngest son of three. He has two big sisters.
[00:02:10] Brad Simpson: I was born in, in Minnesota, and after that our family moved, basically we followed my dad's work, and I spent the first 9 years of my life in, in Minneapolis, and then from there we moved to Des Moines, and then we moved to Overland Park when I was in high school.
[00:02:26] Bob: Brad's mom is a music teacher in their Kansas City suburb. Brad plays the trombone. Brad's father, Paul, is into music too. They have that in common.
[00:02:36] Brad Simpson: We like jazz, mainly kind of you know swing, swing-type jazz, and when my dad was, and actually when my dad was in high school, he had his own dance band. The ironic thing is, my dad didn't play an instrument, and he couldn't read music. So but I, I used to tease him that uh, because of those two things the, the only reason the band bore his name was that he was the only person who had access to a 38 DeSoto with a luggage rack. But that wasn't true. My dad really had a fine ear for music, and he actually wanted to be an arranger, and after World War II, he served in the Navy.
[00:03:11] Bob: When Paul came home after the war, the music career didn't quite work out for him.
[00:03:16] Brad Simpson: He soon realized, however, that he just had too much lost time to make up for musically. And uh, he, he liked to tell people that one of his instructors finally took him aside and said, uh, "My advice to you is to take a couple of weeks off, and then quit." (laughter) Which, and you know, typical, my dad loved to tell funny stories. I don't know if it happened or not, but that's the way he told it.
[00:03:42] Bob: With music off the table, Paul turns to storytelling as a career. Well, not exactly. He becomes a traveling salesman. He sells women's apparel, and those stories come in handy.
[00:03:56] Bob: Your father sounds like a, a really fun guy. I mean he was...
[00:03:59] He was a great guy.
[00:04:01] Bob: That's Brad's sister, Heidi Tjeltveit.
[00:04:04] Bob: He loved everybody, right? He was a, he was, he could talk to anyone, right?
[00:04:07] Heidi Tjeltveit: Oh my gosh, off the charts extroverted. And you know and, and I think that was part of one of the reasons why he was the good salesperson was because he was extroverted, because he could talk to all kinds of people in all different sorts of situations. And you know, had a good sense of humor, so that kind of warmed people up to chat with him. Had a ready smile, um, so I think you know, those were the kinds of things that, that he was known for, absolutely.
[00:04:36] Brad Simpson: Yeah, yeah, and I think I still have his, his high school yearbook and from his senior year I think he was voted best personality. So I, I think you know sales was a natural fit for him.
[00:04:50] Bob: Brad's sisters grow up and move to Minneapolis and the Seattle area; Brad stays closer. He goes to KU for college and moves a few times before settling back in Kansas City in the mid-1990s. Not long after, Paul retires, and Brad moves in with his parents in Overland Park to help take care of them. ... Well, truth be told, Paul never really retires.
[00:05:15] Heidi Tjeltveit: He loved, he loved to schmooze with people and when my dad quote-unquote retired from being a sales rep, he took on three part-time jobs. And one of them I think my brother might have mentioned is that he did pickups at hospitals for, for a laboratory, and picked up samples, and he knew everybody in the, and he knew the parking lot attendant. He knew the people on the floor. He knew everybody on his way inside and out, and for a job like that, they're glad to see you, (laugh) you know, they're not trying to sell them something. They're just really, really glad, really glad to see you.
[00:05:48] Bob: As time passes, Dad starts to slow down a little, and Mom, well Mom starts to have some memory issues. It's 2008, and Paul is in his 80s now, and changes are really hard on him. Then one day, something really exciting happens. A letter comes in the mail saying Paul has won a sweepstakes for a million dollars. He just has to fill out some paperwork to get the money. And when someone calls saying they're from the sweepstakes company, Paul is only too happy to talk with them. Remember, he can talk with anybody. And so that's how Brad finds himself in the living room with his mom that afternoon asking his dad, why is he all dressed up? When Paul says he's going to the airport Brad tries to stop his father.
[00:06:36] Brad Simpson: Well, first of all, I told him, I said, "This sounds fishy." And I told him, I knew enough to know that, you know, any legitimate sweepstakes doesn't require you to send money to get money. I basically, I told him it was a scam, and he, he wouldn't hear it, and then I, I said, "Okay, well, how about if I go to the airport with you?" and he would, he wouldn't have that either. So...
[00:07:00] Bob: He wouldn't let you come to the airport with him.
[00:07:02] Brad Simpson: Nope. No.
[00:07:03] Bob: So, with a big smile on his face, Paul bounds out the door and rushes to the Kansas City airport to meet someone about a million dollars leaving Paul and his mom confused.
[00:07:16] Bob: Did you turn to your mom and say, what's going on, mom?
[00:07:19] Brad Simpson: She, she was concerned, but at the time, I can't remember if it was earlier that year or earlier the previous year that my mom had been diagnosed with dementia, and when this happened with my dad, she was already starting to manifest some of the symptoms. So she was concerned. I think she; she had an inkling that something was wrong, but uh, yeah.
[00:07:43] Bob: But she was in no position to step in and, and stop your father for example.
[00:07:47] Brad Simpson: She was not. No.
[00:07:48] Bob: A few hours later, Paul comes home and doesn't want to talk. The always laughing, always happy salesman is sullen.
[00:07:58] Bob: What did he say?
[00:07:59] Brad Simpson: Empty-handed, and he didn't, he didn't say anything. I mean I could, I could tell that they didn't deliver because of the change in his mood. But that's all I could, all I could really tell.
[00:08:11] Bob: Did he just turn on the TV and the two of you didn't talk or did you, did you talk to him right then and say, "What happened?"
[00:08:16] Brad Simpson: No, he, he withdrew to his office which was kind of like his den on the first floor of the house, so he just kind of stayed away from me and just went in there and shut the door.
[00:08:27] Bob: The next few weeks are a bit of a whirlwind as Brad tries to figure out what his dad has gotten into. It takes a series of conversations to even get part of the story out of his dad. And what he hears is a big concern.
[00:08:41] Brad Simpson: I started quizzing him a little bit, and in the process, I found out that he had sent money in advance of this. And of course, that really set off the alarm signals and then when he wouldn't tell me how much money he'd wired, that really sent chills down my spine.
[00:08:58] Bob: How much was it?
[00:09:00] Brad Simpson: As I later found out at the time, he had sent, I think maybe between 45 and 50 thousand dollars.
[00:09:06] Bob: Paul has sent about $50,000 to the criminals thinking he's paying some kind of required fee before he can pick up his prize. And Dad, well, he just won't listen. He's sure the money is still coming, and he's still willing to send more cash to the sweepstake people. That sends Brad into overdrive looking for solutions. He thinks he's found one at the Overland Park Police Department.
[00:09:34] This will be 33 years in July of 2022, and uh out of those 33 years I've worked as a detective for 26 years.
[00:09:43] Bob: That's Detective Byron Pierce who has spent much of that time in the financial crimes unit where many of the victims are elderly.
[00:09:51] Bob: I can't imagine how uh some of these stories must really get to you, you know.
[00:09:55] Det. Byron Pierce: They do. And I always talk about how our elderly are the forgotten. We tend to overlook them, but they are the most precious jewels in our jewelry box because they deserve special attention when they are victimized by individuals who specifically target elderly people.
[00:10:17] Bob: After Brad fills out a crime report with the police, with all the details about Paul's sweepstakes, Det. Pierce is assigned to the case. Brad reaches out looking for help.
[00:10:28] Det. Byron Pierce: I received a call from Brad Simpson, and he asked, he says, "Hey, if you have some time, I would like for you to come out and speak with my father. He needs to hear from you. Everything that I'm trying to convey to him is just not, you know resonating." And I told Brad, "No problem. I'll be out to see your dad..."
[00:10:47] Bob: So Det. Pierce goes to the house and meets Paul outside. He flashes his badge and starts to explain why Paul should stop sending money to the sweepstakes folks immediately. Why he should stop talking to them.
[00:11:00] Det. Byron Pierce: Our first initial meeting was to kind of explain to him the workings of this fraud and how he became an unwitting victim of this particular fraud, this scam. And also, to kind of educate him as to some of the people that he may be communicating with, maybe you know funding terrorism. We don't know that, or maybe using illicit funds to fund a drug operation. So once money leaves your account, you basically have no control over the use and purpose of the, of those funds. And trying to explain to him you know, the bigger, broader picture as to why he should cease and desist withdrawing large amounts of money uh, from his account.
[00:11:50] Bob: Brad gives his father privacy, lets his father talk with the detective alone.
[00:11:55] Brad Simpson: That time they, they spoke in private, but you know I, I think he just briefly told him, he said, "Hey, this is not legitimate." He basically echoed what I told him. No legitimate sweepstakes or lottery requires you to pay money to get money. You know, these people are ripping you off, and it was, it was fairly short. I, as I recall, he, he talked to my father in the yard when my dad had been out doing some yardwork.
[00:12:22] Bob: It doesn't go well.
[00:12:25] Det. Byron Pierce: My first impression was he was listening, and I think he wanted me to go away. There was such a barrier between the two of us, because I think he in a sense had been brainwashed by some of these con artists and anything I said to try to convince him otherwise, I don't think it was registering to him that this was a bigger problem and he needed to stop.
[00:12:51] Bob: So he was polite, but you could tell it was sort of like water off a duck's back talking to him?
[00:12:56] Det. Byron Pierce: No doubt about it. Absolutely.
[00:12:58] Bob: And as the detective pulls away from the house, he knows this story is not over.
[00:13:06] Bob: That, to me, must be incredibly frustrating and you're, you’re walking away knowing he, he could, five minutes from now, call up a scammer and send them more money, right?
[00:13:15] Det. Byron Pierce: Definitely, and that was the goal, and I think that was Brad's goal was to somehow have someone rattle his cage a little bit to explain to him, he is going to lose his entire life's savings if he continued to communicate and follow the instructions of the con artist to continue to drain his bank account. Definitely. Very frustrating.
[00:13:37] Bob: And that is what happens. Paul keeps talking to the criminals, keeps disappearing for an afternoon here or there. Brad starts to feel a little desperate, so one day he tails his father...
[00:13:49] Brad Simpson: I was just trying to find out where he was going, so in an attempt to try to talk the money transfer agents, the people at the Walmart Neighborhood Markets and other places where he went to wire money, to try to talk him out of wiring money for my dad. And in one case, I kind of lost him, but I, I made a guess, and I wound up finding the right place, and we actually had a confrontation right at the MoneyGram counter at our local Walmart Neighborhood Market, where it, it got kind of ugly, and I, I begged the people there at the counter not to send money for him. There were, there were other people in line, and I told them that my father was sending money to crooks, and we kind of had it out in the parking lot after that. And I said, maybe I can't stop him completely, but if I have a chance, I'm going to make it hard for them to do business, and just mess with them.
[00:14:40] Bob: Did the Walmart associate, what did they do at that confrontation?
[00:14:43] Brad Simpson: Well, my dad, in that particular case, my dad didn't send the money because I think he was embarrassed in front of those other people.
[00:14:52] Bob: Brad doesn't know what else to do, so he asks Det. Pierce to come to the house a second time. This time the conversation is far more serious.
[00:15:04] Det. Byron Pierce: Well, the next thing I hear from Brad was I need for you to come back out and speak with my dad. It has not stopped. In fact, things are worse off. So, I have a second meeting with Mr. Simpson, Paul, and I tried to walk him through, you know, methodically, “This is what's happening. I know the formation, I know the formula as to how they get people like you to bite the poisonous apple, right. Bite that poisonous fruit.” And during that particular visit, I asked Paul, I said, "Do me a favor, can you produce any of the Western Union wire transaction receipts that you have sent to these people?" Paul Simpson excused himself from the living room. He went to his bedroom, returned, and he handed over close to 50 to 60 Western Union wire transaction receipts totaling $72,000.
[00:16:06] Bob: Oh my God.
[00:16:08] Det. Pyron Pierce: So, I was, I was stunned. And after that I then asked him, "Can you tell me what is your ending balance in your checking account to date?" And Mr. Simpson looked at me and said he had $250.
[00:16:25] Bob: Wow.
[00:16:27] Det. Byron Simpson: That right there, we have a major problem.
[00:16:30] Bob: That pile of papers there, all those Western Union receipts, they amount to this awful reality. Brad's father has sent almost every penny in the family bank account to the criminals. After the first visit from Det. Pierce, Paul Simpson was mad at his son, Brad recalls, but not this time.
[00:16:50] Brad Simpson: During the second visit, he was not only polite, but he was contrite, very cooperative. He apologized. He admitted that he was being scammed, and he actually even turned over copies of several wire transfers at the detective's request. You know, he said everything they wanted to hear and then a day or two later he was right back at it.
[00:17:14] Bob: A day or two later he's right back at it. As if Paul just can't stop himself.
[00:17:22] Bob: Do you think somewhere between those two visits your father, his eyes were opened a little bit, because at some point he thought, he was like, "No, this isn't a scam. It's real." And then at some point he said, "Yes, I, I do understand it's a scam, but I," it's almost like he couldn't stop, like an addiction. Do, do you think he realized that during that time?
[00:17:39] Brad Simpson: It's really hard to... to know what my dad's real thoughts were. But I think it's possible that by that time he'd, he'd lost so much money, or invested perhaps would be the word in his mind, that he thought he couldn't afford to stop now. And what do they call that, the uh, the sum cost fallacy, you know where someone reaches a point where they've lost so much money, they feel they have to keep spending, 'cause they're afraid their investment is going to be spoiled. But yeah, I don't know if he thought he was being scammed, but definitely, at a certain point it became a compulsion like gambling. I actually coined a phrase for it. I, I call it scambling, because of course it's a scam instead of a gamble here. I mean if it was gambling, I could almost understand it better because, you know, gamblers' behavior is reinforced occasionally by a win. And to the best of my knowledge, my dad never won anything. He never got any money. So which made it more difficult. I'm going like, you know, if they gave him some money along the way I could kind of understand it, but this had me totally baffled because he kept sending money and kept getting nothing in return over and over and over again.
[00:18:57] Bob: And so in a last ditch attempt to protect what's left of his parents' assets, Brad goes to court to get himself declared a conservator for his parents.
[00:19:05] Brad Simpson: One of the tough decisions we faced was do we issue him an ultimatum and say, if you don't stop, this is, we're going to take legal action. Or, do we go ahead and seek conservatorship and tell him after the fact, which, and actually we chose the second course of action because even though we didn't know for sure, we had no reason to believe that if he wasn't going to listen to the police, that the threat of legal action, was, you know, wasn't going to change things. Plus the fact we felt that if we tipped our hand, then the crooks might double-down on their efforts to clean out my dad, and my mom, by the way, you know, it wasn't just his money, it was hers too.
[00:19:49] Bob: Yeah, of course. Did, did she, as you were going through this process, did, did she contribute? Did, was she aware of it?
[00:19:55] Brad Simpson: She was. She wasn't so far into her illness at that time, but yeah, she knew, she was very supportive. She knew something was wrong. It was very stressful for her, especially all of the phone calls, yes, it, it was very stressful for her.
[00:20:11] Bob: Fortunately, Paul doesn't put up much of a fight in court.
[00:20:15] Brad Simpson: At the conservatorship hearing, my dad turned out to be our best witness because then the, the judge asked him if he was ever going to stop sending money, he was honest and he said, he couldn't promise that because he thought that eventually someday he was going to win his big prize. And you know that kind of sealed his fate as far as the conservatorship went, and it convinced me that without taking legal action the only things that would stop my dad would be bankruptcy or death.
[00:20:47] Bob: By the time Brad is able to get his head around all the transactions his father had with the criminals, he learns that about $150,000 has been stolen from his family. He hopes that day in court will be the end of it. But instead, it would only be the beginning of a new chapter of Act II as Det. Pierce calls it because Paul Simpson simply can't live without talking to his criminals. In fact, he would spend the rest of his life working for them. That's next on The Perfect Scam.
[00:21:32] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.
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