A 41-year-old man is accused of playing on peoples’ emotions and generosity to bilk East Valley businesses by convincing them to advance him cash for bogus vehicle towings since June.
Michael Sprouse, who already was incarcerated in a Maricopa County jail for another fraud-related offense, was arrested on suspicion of fraudulent schemes about 1 p.m. Tuesday. Police say he received about $1,622 from at least 14 different businesses, including nine in Mesa. Other business that fell victim to the scam were in Tempe, Gilbert and Scottsdale, according to Mesa police.
Mesa police had sent out warnings about a scam in which a man called a local business identifying himself as a corporate employee or legal consultant of the company whose niece or nephew was driving from Texas or California when their vehicle broke down in Mesa. He then would request that someone from the business deliver between $60 and $207 for the towing bill and tell the employee he would pay the money back the next day, according to police.
Businesses such as an In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Mesa, a Ruth Chris Steakhouse in Scottsdale, an Edible Arrangements in Tempe and Rice Garden restaurant inside a Basha’s grocery store in Mesa, fell victim to the scam.
In the case of the Rice Garden, the caller identified himself as a district manager named Bill who requested the manager to get $207 to pay for some new restaurant equipment. The manager later gave the money to a man who gave the restaurant manager a business card identifying himself as a business development manager for a construction company in Dallas.
In most cases, Sprouse was identified through a photo lineup by someone connected to the business he scammed, police say. Some victims had actually met him while giving him cash only to find out later from legitimate workers of the corporate offices the names Sprouse provided did not exist.
“When somebody called the business, they played on peoples’ emotions and their generosity wanting them to do good for somebody else,” said detective Mike Melendez, a Mesa police spokesman.
Melendez said a woman also is being questioned in connection with the investigation.
Each offense was a misdemeanor because of the small amount of money involved, but the overall amount of money elevates the crime to a felony.