STOUGHTON (CBS) — Police say they’ve arrested one of two men who allegedly scammed residents by posing as water department employees in an investigation that spanned the East Coast.
It all started with what appeared to be a simple break-in in Stoughton, where police say a man pretending to be a town worker forced his way into a home. But now police allege the involvement of an “organized criminal enterprise” and say law enforcement agencies in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida came together to help solve the case.READ MORE: Will The Ford Maverick Be A Game-Changer In The Auto Industry?
Surveillance video from Feb. 2 shows a man coming out of the basement of a Stoughton home. The elderly homeowner said he was dressed as a water department employee and asked to see her water meter before forcing his way inside. When she grew suspicious, she attempted to call 911 as the man struggled with her and then escaped. Cameras captured him hopping a fence, walking down an alley, and getting into a car waiting for him in a Wendy’s parking lot.
A Stoughton police detective put out a law enforcement bulletin containing the suspect’s vehicle description and method of gaining entry to the home. Almost immediately, other police departments in Massachusetts including Methuen, Dracut and Wilmington got in contact.
A tip from Andover recalled a similar break-in attempt, but the homeowner did not open the door and instead wrote down the license plate of the car. The plate was traced back to an Enterprise rental car obtained on Jan. 30.
Based on Enterprise records, 45-year-old Paul Mitchell, of Florida, was driving the car. Surveillance video from Enterprise showed Mitchell renting the car with another man, identified by Pennsylvania State Police investigating similar crimes as 28-year-old Stanley Mitchell, who appeared to be the fake water department worker in the Stoughton video.
The Norfolk County District Attorney issued arrest warrants for both men, and the Palm Beach County, Florida sheriff’s department and FBI agents arrested Paul Mitchell, the suspected getaway driver, on March 5.READ MORE: UMass Lowell Closed Tuesday Due To 'Possible Cybersecurity Incident'
Stoughton police flew to Florida on Wednesday to take him into custody on charges of breaking and entering to a dwelling in the daytime, larceny over $1,200, and conspiracy to commit a crime. He also had a warrant for his arrest out of Wilmington for entering a dwelling under a false pretense, and conspiracy.
Stanley Mitchell, also of Florida, is still on the loose. He’s wanted on similar charges and assault and battery on a person over 60.
“There are numerous other ongoing investigations in Massachusetts with regards to similar types of crimes,” Stoughton Police Chief Donna McNamara said in a press conference. “Our work is not done.”
She said detectives were able to get in touch with both suspects by phone. Law enforcement in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida confirmed that information.
“This is an organized group who commits scams and crimes, moving quickly throughout states,” McNamara said.
It appears the two men were looking to take advantage of the vulnerable, McNamara said.
“There are different types of scams that they may utilize,” she said. “The Water Department was one of the ones that they used here in Massachusetts and we were lucky enough to identify them.”MORE NEWS: Massachusetts Announces $1M 'VaxMillions' COVID Vaccine Lottery; 'If You're Not Vaccinated, You Can't Play'
Paul Mitchell appeared in Stoughton District Court Friday, where a prosecutor said he’s been convicted of identity fraud and grand larceny in Virginia. His lawyer called the case circumstantial and argued that no witnesses had identified him in connection with the crimes. A judge set bail at $50,000.