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Area residents targeted with jury duty scam

CONYERS — The Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office is looking into a series of suspicious telephone calls made to residents over the weekend — including a Newton County woman — by scam artists posing as Sheriff’s Office employees and attempting to coerce their victims into handing over thousands of dollars to allegedly avoid arrest for missing jury duty.

According to the RCSO incident reports and comments from victims, the scammers used essentially the same script with each of the victims. The caller identified himself as either “Lt. John Martin” or “Capt. Larry Truitt.” The callers knew their would-be victims’ addresses and provided them phone numbers to call back. One potential victim said she called the number given, which was answered by a female who answered, “Sheriff’s Office, how can I help you,” the incident report states.

They told their victims that they had missed jury or grand jury duty a few weeks earlier and would have to pay a fine to avoid arrest. In at least one instance, the scammers told the victim that Superior Court Judge Robert Mumford would be issuing a warrant for her arrest if she didn’t pay the “fine.” They were all told to remain on the phone with the scammers until the transactions were completed.

Rockdale County resident Joan Davidson said she received a call at her home from “Lt. John Martin” Friday morning.

“I said, is this a joke? I didn’t get any notice telling me I had jury duty,” Davidson told the Citizen on Tuesday. “He said, ‘No, ma’am, this is not a joke. I’m looking at the notice right here.’”

Davidson said she became very upset and tried to explain to the man that she understood very well how serious it is to miss jury duty.

“He told me that there was only one way to get out of this because it is such a serious offense. He said it would cost me a lot of money, but that I would get the money back,” Davidson said.

The man told her to take $1,867 out of the bank and purchase a Green Dot card from a Fred’s, CVS, Rite-Aid or Kroger location. She was then to take the Green Dot card to the Clerk of Courts office and they would write her a check for the amount.

“I was suspicious at this point, but still very nervous,” Davidson recalled.

She said she asked why she couldn’t take the money directly to the Clerk’s Office, and he told her the Green Dot card was the safest way to protect her identity.

Even though the man told her to stay on the phone until she completed her transaction, Davidson hung up the phone and called a family member who works at the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office. He told her this was a scam and not to send any money. Davidson said while she was on the phone, “Lt. John Martin” was calling in. When she answered the phone, she told him she thought this was a scam.

“He put me on the line with his ‘captain,’ who informed me this was a very serious matter, and if I didn’t cooperate, this would become a felony and I could spend up to 14 days in jail,” Davidson said. “I was very upset and was in tears, but I told him he would have to just come on and arrest me.”

An elderly woman in Covington reported to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office that she, too, was contacted on Friday by someone telling her she had a warrant out of Rockdale County for not showing up for grand jury duty, according to the NCSO report.

“They stated, ‘don’t hang up the phone or your a— will be going to jail,’” the victim told the deputy.

She said she stayed on the phone while she withdrew about $2,700 from her bank and purchased Green Dot cards.

Cpl. Michael Camp said the RCSO is working to track down the suspects in these scams and has contacted the District Attorney’s Office as well as the Clerk of Courts Office.

NCSO Deputy Felicia Jefferson said the Sheriff’s Office will never ask a person for money if they have a warrant.

“Our warrants division will serve you personally, and they will never ask for money over the phone,” she said.

Becky White, chief deputy clerk in the Newton County Clerk’s Office, said that if someone should fail to appear for jury duty, they will receive a summons from the Sheriff’s Office that will provide a date and time to appear before a judge.

“You will never pay a fine without appearing before a judge first and he would say what needs to be done,” she said.

In Rockdale County, citizens who miss jury duty will get a notification by mail, called a nonappearance letter, that provides a court date for that person to appear before a Superior Court judge.

“Usually at that point, the judge will set you over to a new jury date,” said Joy White, chief deputy clerk in Rockdale County. “Then if you don’t appear, you will receive another notice, called a Rule Nisi, to appear once again, and that is served by the Sheriff’s Office. Nothing is handled by telephone. The Sheriff’s Office will serve you personally if you miss the second time.”

Camp said it is a departmental policy within the RCSO that no warrant information is ever given out over the phone.

“If you have a warrant, that’s for an arrest, not a fine,” he said. “The fine process comes out after going to court and the court orders the fine. We don’t collect those fines.”

Camp said if anyone should get a suspicious call, they should contact Investigator Tracy Radford at the Sheriff’s Office at 770-278-8169 and make a report

“The biggest thing to know is don’t pay anything, especially if you just received a phone call,” Camp said.