The Illinois man that a Silver Lake widower accused of taking his late wife’s wedding ring in a Craigslist scam will not be charged with a crime because he is also the victim of a scam, according to Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies.
An investigation by sheriff’s departments from two states recovered Dave Kusler’s lost ring, as well as revealed a larger scam, which officials say is likely based out of the country.
“We ended up recovering a bunch of rings. There were multiple victims from (multiple states),” said Sgt. Jason Martin, an investigator with the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office in Sheridan, Ill.
Kusler, 66, of Silver Lake was one of the victims. He sent a $6,000, one-carat wedding ring to an Illinois-based buyer in March, but he never received payment. He and his wife agreed before she died to sell the ring to pay for her medical bills.
The buyer also convinced Kusler to send four $100 Amazon gift cards by using a fraudulent email address purporting to be PayPal. Those emails stated that payment for the ring was being held because the buyer had been overcharged, so Kusler needed to pay back the difference.
Kusler reported the apparent scam to Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies, who worked with the LaSalle department to track down the buyer. Cowlitz County deputies declined to share the name of the Illinois man because no charges were filed against him.
Martin said the LaSalle deputies went to the address Kusler sent the ring to and confirmed the alleged buyer lived there. Although deputies found several rings in the home, the man had not actually asked Kusler or the other victims to send him the jewelry, Martin said.
The Illinois man told deputies he thought a woman he met on Mingle.com was sending him the rings.
“This guy believed he was dating a woman who was in the (military) service on a base down in Georgia, and she had told him she was going to have her friends send some stuff to him,” Martin said. “She wanted him to pawn it or sell it, and then he could keep some of the money himself, and she would meet up with him later and get the rest of the money.”
But when several wedding and engagement rings started arriving in the mail, the man “thought it seemed suspicious and held onto the stuff,” Martin said.
The man received rings from Washington state, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Idaho. Another victim in Vermont had also shipped a ring, but deputies stopped the package before it arrived in Sheridan.
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In all cases but one, deputies returned the rings to their original owners. (Martin said the shipping information for one of the rings was not available, so deputies were unable to send the ring back.) Cowlitz County deputies hand-delivered Kusler’s ring to him in May.
The investigation “quickly ruled out” the Illinois man as the “mastermind behind the operation,” Martin said. A report by the Cowlitz County agency said the man “appeared to be a victim as well and was willing to assist (deputies) in their investigation.”
Deputies believe a third party, who was posing as the man’s Mingle.com girlfriend, was contacting the sellers and using the man’s name and address to ship the rings. That suspect was likely part of a larger scam operation based out of the country.
A search warrant authored by Cowlitz County deputies revealed that the email and IP addresses used to contact the victims were based in Nigeria. Other IP addresses used to redeem Amazon gift cards returned to Vietnam and South Africa.
Amazon also provided investigators with information about what items were purchased with the gift cards and where they were shipped. Items included refrigerator filters, small tools and small kitchen appliances.
“I was able to contact some of the people who had received products that were purchased using the gift card funds,” said Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Deputy Kelly Pattison in his report. “The people contacted said they had purchased the items on eBay.com and not through Amazon.”
Further investigation determined that the suspected scammers had set up another operation to get cash from the Amazon gift cards they’d received from Kusler and some other victims.
The scammers listed items for sale on eBay, even though they didn’t actually have the products. Then, when a sale was made through eBay, the suspects would purchase the same item on Amazon with the gift card and ship it directly to the purchaser — and collect the money from the eBay sale.
Because the suspects are likely out-of-country, the Cowlitz and LaSalle departments will not further pursue charges, Martin said. Cases like this fall in the FBI’s jurisdiction, he said.
It was unclear last week whether the federal agency has picked up the case.