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Scam seeks donations for deaf students

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published June 23, 2016

WARREN/FERNDALE/ROYAL OAK —  It’s a request to support a good cause, just a few bucks to help send kids from the Michigan School for the Deaf to play football in Washington, D.C.

The problem, police and school officials say, is that the fundraiser isn’t real and an alleged scammer or a group of people bent on fraud has been raking in the cash.

The scam, reported earlier this year by school officials, has apparently already bilked generous souls in at least two communities out of at least $2,200.

Detective Greg Booton of the Warren Police Department began investigating the case after an encounter with a suspect in another incident led to a curious discovery.

“This guy came to our attention when a report was filed about a failure to return a motorcycle,” Booton said. “I’ve got one guy who says another guy borrowed his motorcycle to take it for a short ride and it never came back.”

Booton said both the owner and the borrower of the motorcycle are hearing impaired.

As part of the investigation into the missing motorcycle, Booton said he contacted the borrower, who is a resident of Sterling Heights, to let him know that a police report had been filed. The owner then called Warren police when the borrower arrived to return the motorcycle.

“He had with him like 25 pages, sheets that said, ‘Put your name here, put your email here and what you are donating,” Booton said. “It was a lot of people’s handwriting and difficult to read.”

Booton said he reached out to the contacts listed on the sheet through a group email and began to gather information about how they ended up on the list.

“I got about 20 responses. It varies. Some people were at bars, some people were at restaurants, a couple in Ferndale, Royal Oak, basically saying a deaf guy comes in and hands them a piece of paper, saying he’s collecting money for a sports team to go to Washington, D.C.,” Booton said.

The donations on the sheets recovered by police reportedly totaled about $2,200.

While the suspect could be charged in Warren with unlawful use of a motor vehicle for his failure to return the motorcycle, Booton said he planned to reach out to police in other jurisdictions where the donations were allegedly sought. He also said he’d wait to see if any victims in other cities, including Warren, come forward.

Ferndale businesses listed on the recovered sheets included the Woodward Avenue Brewery, Danny’s Irish Pub, M Brew, Red Hook Cafe, and the Rust Belt Market. The Bean & Leaf Cafe, Cafe Du Marquis, and Little Brothers Burgers in Royal Oak were also listed.

Cece Winkler, the principal at the Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint, said no such fundraiser was ever authorized. She also said the school’s athletic director had received a previous complaint that had since been forwarded directly to the Ferndale Police Department.

“The deaf school doesn’t beg on corners. That’s not our style,” Winkler said. “We believe in empowering deaf people to be the best they can be. We don’t go for a disability model, ‘Poor little children, help them out.’ We don’t believe in that.

“We don’t want people to think we’re scam artists, either. We report to the Michigan Department of Education. There are guidelines for how we fundraise and this is not it. Our concern is not to let anybody else get scammed.”

Winkler said the school receives a tremendous amount of support statewide and from the local community.

“We’re very proud of our integrity out don’t really appreciate someone playing on that,” Winkler said.

Anyone with information about the scam and the suspect or suspects involved can reach Detective Greg Booton at the Warren Police Department at (586) 574-4771.