Great-grandmother out thousands of dollars in apparent scam

A Triangle great grandmother says she's been swindled out of her life savings by a family friend.
February 17, 2014 4:09:50 PM PST
A Triangle great-grandmother says she's been swindled out of her life savings. The widow says a family friend played on her sympathy and emotions to trick her out of $500,000.

ABC11 I-Team Troubleshooter Diane Wilson was tipped to the situation by Brenda Williams' concerned kids, and started digging.

Brenda said she opened her heart, and her wallet, to a friend who told her he was dying of cancer. Now, she's broke, and convinced the whole thing was a con.

Brenda doesn't have much to live on, or look forward to anymore.  

"He's messed up my life," said Brenda.

He is Donnie Lucas -- a family friend from a small town here in the heart of Carolina.

"His mother and daddy, I always loved them to death and they were just like parents to me, and that's how we met," said Brenda.

When Brenda lost her husband in 2009, she got a hefty life insurance payout and, soon after, she says she got a visit from Lucas.

"He just came up one day and said 'I got cancer and I'm going to die if I don't get treatments and surgery,'" said Brenda.

She says Lucas claimed he had no insurance and needed her help.

"I'll help him because if his momma was here she'd want me to help him," said Brenda, "and that's what got it all started."

It started with just $300, but Brenda says he kept coming back for more. So she gave him $2,500, then $4,600. Brenda says Lucas gave her a promissory note, saying he'd pay her interest on the $7,400 in loans, and he'd pay her a total of $8,900 back before Sept. 25. However, instead of money, Brenda says Lucas came back with a message that the cancer had spread to his brain.

"He just kept on saying, 'Nobody will help me. Nobody will help me. I can't do this. I can't. I'm going to die,' and then he'd cry. "said Brenda. "Well, I just believed everything he was telling me, and I thought, 'Well I don't want him to die.' So, I was trying to help save his life."

A look at Brenda's bank records from 2009 to 2012 shows how much she helped -- $4,500, another $5,000, then $22,000, another $7,000, and $14,000 more.

Brenda says Lucas gave her a blank check so she'd have his account number, and she'd deposit the money straight to his account -- always with the promise of repayment.

"'I got you on my life insurance. You'll get paid when I die,'" Brenda recalls Lucas saying.  "He told me six months before Christmas he was going to die before Christmas. He wouldn't even see Christmas."

That was in 2012, three years after he first told her he was dying of cancer. Death didn't come. However, the requests for more money kept coming.  By 2012, Brenda says she'd given him half a million dollars.  

"I just felt sorry for him and then I thought I've gone too far now. I've given too much," said Brenda.

By the time her kids found out, her life savings was almost gone.  So was Lucas. They couldn't track him down even though he kept sending her texts purportedly from all over the country. They are texts the kids say prove he was tugging on the widow's heart-strings, along with her purse-strings like this, "Gdnight dear. Sweet dreams. L u."

When she asked about his health?

He responded, "Just a slow death luv."

When she pressed him that she was really struggling and needed him to re-pay her, he texted, "I'm sorry about your money. U will be better off when I pass. I have made sure." He also replied, "My death will be your salvation dear. Be patient just a little longer."

While Brenda waited, and lost her home and had to move into a much smaller one, Lucas didn't die. In fact, he rang her up recently.

"He called me and told me he was going to send me a check for the house that he owed me and I said, 'Well, I've waited for three years, I think it's time for you to give me all of it back.' And he said, 'Well, I can't do that right now. I have to give it to you when I die," said Brenda.

We also tried to track down Lucas, but he only responded by text.  Once I told him who I was, he stopped replying to me, and texted Brenda wondering why I was involved, and reassuring her: "You may see a big blessing."

Four years into this mess, Brenda is not hopeful.

"I look back now and I think to myself, 'What a fool' because I've got a good heart but I thought to myself, 'You're stupid.' And that's the way I feel and I'm embarrassed about it, but it's too late now," said Brenda.

She hopes it won't happen again.

"I don't think he should get away with it," she said. "Not to me or anybody else."

Brenda's family contacted the FBI, and they did investigate. It's tough though because of the way Brenda made the deposits directly into Lucas' accounts.

For now, Brenda is scraping by. To make matters worse, she now owes thousand in taxes because she cashed in some of her investments too early when helping Lucas. Her kids are staying close to her. They want us to be aware that this can happen to anyone, but especially to seniors whose generosity makes them prime targets.

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