Scammer targets Oklahoma's Special Olympics

Monday, December 19th 2005, 6:25 pm
By: News On 6

It's a Christmas crime that has left its victims disgusted. A 63-year-old Joplin man has been arrested, accused of putting out fake collection boxes for the Special Olympics.

Authorities say Robert Winters dropped them off at more than 5-dozen Tulsa-area businesses, who unknowingly became the tools in the alleged fraud. News on 6 reporter Steve Berg explains.

Worth Schottlander: "When I found out the other day that it was a fraud, it shocked me, how people can be taken so easily." Worth Schottlander says he and his manager didn't give it much thought when Robert Winters asked to leave a collection box at Locke Plumbing and Electrical Supply on East Admiral. "He left it, and I sat there and talked to him for a minute or so at the door as he was walking out, and he seemed like a nice man, but you know how that goes."

"I was surprised when I saw the boxes how sophisticated this particular one was." Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says there was nothing obvious to tip anybody off about the boxes either. Nicely constructed and with a spot-on likeness of the Special Olympics logo.

Special Olympics of Oklahoma director Adrian De Wendt says Winters is definitely not affiliated with them. "Like all of us, this is a season of giving. It's the integrity or lack of it from this individual or these characters, that's really disappointing."

Edmondson says Winters was arrested in Joplin, Missouri and charged with two felony counts of unlawful merchandising. He says he'll try to get charges against him in Oklahoma too.

Missouri's law-enforcement believes Winters placed as many as 200 of the bogus boxes in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, many of those in businesses along Admiral. Worth Schottlander: "It blew my mind to find out that people would scam money this time of year to fill their pockets, there ain't no reason for it."

Drew Edmondson says be wary. "Contact the organization to find out if this solicitation is legitimate." Worth Schottlander: "Looks are very deceiving."

The authorities and the charities both want people to be careful, but they also worry about a chilling effect on giving. They hope people will continue to give, because they rely on those donations and they do a lot of good work.