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Florida man pleads guilty to swindling senior citizens, including Hastings couple

A 35-year-old Florida man, Robert Attias, has pleaded guilty to one count of theft by swindle (aiding and abetting) in connection with a series of phone scams committed against Minnesota senior citizens, including a Hastings couple in early 2010.

In court proceedings earlier this week, Attias admitted receiving money in Florida from victims and sending it on to a family member in Canada.

Judge Thomas Pugh ordered a pre-sentence hearing and set sentencing for 9 a.m. Jan. 10 in Hastings.

According to the criminal complaint, the Hastings couple was one of five senior couples swindled out of a sum of money by Attias, who told them he needed the money to get their grandson out of a jail in Florida.

Attias called unsuspecting grandparents posing as a relative or an attorney for other relatives and convinced the grandparents to wire money for bail, car repairs or other costs.

Attias is a Canadian citizen, who most recently has lived in Florida.

During February 2010, the Department of Public Safety, Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division and the Hastings Police Department received a report of a phone scam theft. A man said he received a call from a man posing as their grandson. He said he was in a Florida jail and he needed money for jail. A short time later, the man said he received a call from an individual identifying himself as Attias, who said he was a public defender and he needed $1,668 to get their grandson out of jail. The man did go to a business in Hastings and wired the money to Attias at a Florida address.

Several days later, the man received another call, this time from a male, who said he was an assistant district attorney in Florida. The caller said the previous money was for damages and now the grandson needed an additional $1,400 for bail. The man became suspicious and said he would not send any more money. A short time later, the man received another call, but hung up.

A man who identified himself as Attias with a driver’s license from Quebec picked up the money. He did resemble a man identified as Attias, who has a Florida driver’s license.

At about the same time as this investigation was under way, Glencoe police were investigating phone scam thefts in its jurisdiction. Likewise, the same scam was used with the same individual – Attias — in Florida. The Glencoe victim was called two additional times seeking money for car repairs. That victim did send the additional money.

St. Paul Police, the Olmstead County Sheriff’s Office and the Steele County Sheriff’s Office reported similar phone scams. Again, the name Robert Attias was used in these cases.

The total loss in the five phone scam cases was more than $15,500.

Law enforcement officials made contact with Attias July 19, 2010. Attias said he had lost his Canadian passport and someone must have been impersonating him. Surveillance photos of when the money from the Hastings couple was picked up were sent to Florida. It was the same individual police talked to in July, 2010.