Grandma Accused in Pickpocket Ring

Thursday, October 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) — An arthritic grandmother allegedly ran a family pickpocket ring from a wheelchair for 10 years, teaching her children and grandson tricks of the trade and taking in as much as $50,000 per day.

Ernestine Williams, 63, dispatched her 15-person crew to pilfer credit cards and checks from elderly shoppers in retail stores from Miami to Atlanta, taking a cut for each crime, according to a 2-year investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.

The stolen credit cards were later used to purchase other goods, from lawn furniture to laptop computers, agents said.

Ernestine Williams, her children Timothy Butts, 42, and Tomeka Williams, 31, and grandson Jessie Williams, 19, were arrested Wednesday on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to racketeer. The four has been linked to more than 150 thefts across Florida and Georgia, authorities said.

They were each being held on $100,000 bond.

``You don't have to be a Mafia Don to commit organized crime,'' said Michael Washam, an FDLE special agent supervisor.

Ernestine Williams taught her minions where to shop and how to distract their victims, police said. She sat in parking lots waiting for her troops to return with the goods, authorities said.

Workers sometimes made more than $1,000 per day, authorities said.

At the dilapidated duplex where Ernestine Williams lived, another daughter, Tawana Williams, said her mother couldn't possibly be the architect of the pickpocket scheme.

``We're struggling, we can't even eat,'' Tawana Williams, 32, said. ``We'd be rich. We would be in a mansion.''

Ernestine Williams, a mother of 12, was arrested 28 times from 1960 to 1988, according to FDLE records. The charges ranged from shoplifting, burglary and heroin possession to drug and weapons charges.

Four others linked to the scheme had already been jailed, including Cynthia Brinson, Ernestine's 28-year-old daughter.