CON TRICKS FROM JAIL Inmates held over fraud scheme run in cells
YOU’VE JUST been sentenced to seven years for carjacking and possession of stolen goods. Should you: a) behave well in prison and hope to be released after less than three years; or,
b) start a fraud scheme that you can run from your prison cell to extort thousands of rand from unsuspecting people across four provinces?
Well, it looks like Pretoria prison inmates Lucas Masemola and Tebogo Mashishi decided to take the latter option, after they were busted by the national anti-corruption detective unit for alleged fraud earlier this month.
Masemola, 44, and Mashishi, 24, housed at the Odi Prison in Mabopane, north of Pretoria, had been under surveillance by the unit since July this year, after it received numerous complaints from the Crime Stop hotline.
The pair would allegedly telephone different police stations posing as senior police officers, asking for information on various criminal cases.
“The suspects are alleged to have obtained information about complainants and suspects of criminal cases, mostly in respect of car-jackings and theft of motor vehicles and they would use this information to extort money from their victims,” said police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Katlego Mogale. While investigators haven’t ruled out possible police collusion in the obtaining of this information, Mogale said this was still subject to investigation.
“The suspects would then contact crime victims, inform them that their vehicles have been recovered and the victim must deposit certain amounts of money through e-wallet/money market to get their vehicles back,” she said.
According to a source close to the investigation, the pair would often tell their victims that there was a possibility the cars would not be returned due to issues with the engine or chassis numbers being removed after the vehicles were stolen. This would essentially force the victim to bribe who they believed were police officers to get their vehicles back.
When they targeted suspected criminals who had been arrested, the pair would contact the suspects’ next of kin to ask for money, usually in an attempt to solicit a bribe to have the case dockets disappear.
Mogale said the anti-corruption investigation unit had discovered the pair had targeted multiple victims across the provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape.
“The t wo suspects were subsequently arrested in Pretoria correctional facilities. During the operation, t he suspects were found in possession of cellphones which they used to contact victims during commission of the crimes,” Mogale said.
The pair were taken to the Kempton Park Magistrate’s court on Tuesday, facing charges of extortion, fraud, theft, defeating the ends of justice and impersonating a police officer. However, police are concerned they have not yet found all of Makena and Masemola’s victims, and are asking anyone who has received suspicious phone calls from people purporting to be police officers to come forward.
“Community members are urged to come forward with any information in relation to this scam or if they might have been a victim of the scam. Contact Captain Kwena Sefaamela on cellphone number 071 361 9419, or Sergeant Mpho Mashishi on cellphone number 082 770 5404. They may be contacted during office hours,” said Mogale.
It is understood that complaints have been laid with prison authorities regarding how the men were able to keep their devices in their cells without being detected.
They allegedly obtained information on complainants and suspects in cases and use it to extort money