Former school board candidate gets 60 days, probation in bilking

WARREN – A one-time Warren School Board candidate who has a history of charitable work with neighborhood associations was placed on five years probation and ordered to do the first 60 days of the sentence in the Trumbull County Jail for bilking an elderly woman out of her money.

Judge W. Wyatt McKay also ordered that Roderick Lewis Jr. pay back the woman $540 that was stolen from her last year. He was accused of swiping credit cards from the woman twice, including while impersonating a police officer.

Lewis explained to the judge that he was remorseful for his actions, and he was continuing to hold on to a job.

Lewis , of Stewart Drive N.W., was named in a seven-count grand jury indictment in the identity theft scheme in June of 2013. That felony charge of impersonating an officer was dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea earlier to charges of theft from an elderly person, theft, misuse of a credit card and attempted misuse of a credit card.

A niece of the 93-year-old Howland woman read the judge an impact statement from her aunt in court, saying it was tough for her to trust anyone anymore.

”He had me convinced that he was truthful,” the woman wrote in her statement. ”I found out he was pretending to be someone he wasn’t.”

The woman said she is scared to shop alone and the case has affected her physically and mentally.

According to a Howland police report, the elderly woman, who lives in a Shepherd of the Valley facility, reported her purse stolen while she was shopping June 5 at Kohl’s Department Store. Inside the purse were Visa, Discover, Chase Freedom, Macy’s, JCPenney’s and Kohl’s credit cards along with her driver’s license, Social Security card and a cell phone.

By the time the woman got home from the store, a voicemail from Visa already had alerted her that $1,500 in purchases were made at Walmart and $550 at Kmart, according to police reports.

The woman canceled the credit cards and shortly afterward, she got a call from a man identifying himself as Jeff Cole, a Niles detective who was working on her case. The victim then furnished the caller with personal information like her license number, previous addresses, how long she lived at her current address and other facts, the report stated.

The caller – who had used the name of an actual Warren police lieutenant in the scam – said he would call her back with any progress so there was no need to call police. The caller didn’t leave any way to contact him.

Three days after the purse was stolen and the credit cards canceled, the elderly victim received a new Visa credit card. ”Jeff” had called her several times during the three-day period, and once the new card arrived, he told the woman he needed the card to ”run it through the police station.”

The woman followed the caller’s advice and put the new credit card in an envelope and put it in her mailbox. Within minutes, a car pulled up and a man jumped out, took the envelope, beeped his car horn and waved at the victim.

The scam artist called the woman later and said he was leaving town for the weekend and to not try and contact him.

That day, the woman told her niece what happened and the relative contacted Visa again, only to find out that three unauthorized purchases totaling $151 were made on the new card.

Howland detectives eventually linked the theft to Lewis,who once donated his time as a tutor and helped organize a toy drive for the Warren Family Mission.

On May 15, 2009, Lewis helped with a spaghetti dinner fundraiser to raise money for a victim who was mauled by attacking dogs.

That same year he was a recipient of a scholarship from the A. Philip Randolph Institute. He also organized and sponsored an event at the YWCA in Warren to rally local voters for the Barack Obama campaign.

Lewis was recognized as a 2009 Tribune Chronicle Community Star.

In August 2008, he organized a free school supplies distribution during his senior year at Harding High School and Trumbull Career and Technical Center.

Last November, he lost his bid for a seat on the Warren City Board of Education.