A couple whose hard-luck stories of broken-down cars and helpless pregnancy squeezed up to $200 an hour from parking-lot Good Samaritans were actually apartment managers who moonlighted as con artists, authorities said.
Jeffrey Dwayne Allman, 31, and Tracy Chris Hartland, 24, described as aspiring actors, were each charged with 22 misdemeanor counts of petty theft for allegedly duping people in the scheme that netted them up to $200 an hour, the City Attorney's office said Thursday.Among the alleged victims was Los Angeles Times writer Jack Smith, whose column recounting his suspicion and eventual surrender of $20 during an encounter with the seemingly forlorn couple brought at least 50 letters from readers who said they had been similarly taken in.
The couple, who have been dubbed the "Yuppie Panhandlers" by authorities, are scheduled for arraignment Sept. 1.
City Attorney Jim Hahn said the couple approached people in supermarket parking lots and at service stations and told elaborate hard-luck stories, asking for a loan that they promised to pay back.
The letters to Smith were turned over to police, and Hahn said they provided the leads needed to identify the couple.
"I'm pretty soft-hearted and I was skeptical throughout because there were some holes in their story. But then you wonder, `What if it's true,' " said Smith, who was approached by the couple outside a Pasadena supermarket in April.
"I hate to think I looked gullible. When I thought about it, I said: `What a dumbbell you are,' " Smith added.
He said he has since talked to the woman, who apologized.
Allman and Hartland, who were arrested Aug. 10 while making their pitch to a man at a West Hollywood car wash, were not at all down on their luck, Hahn said.
They were being paid for managing a West Hollywood apartment building and also received a free $776-a-month apartment as part of the deal, Hahn said.
He added that Allman admitted making about $200 an hour on the con game, which had been running for three years.
Both Allman and Hartland have arrest records on drug related charges.
Explaining how the scheme worked, Hahn said the woman often would sit in a car cuddling a dog or cat while Allman approached the victims.
"Allman would spin elaborate tales of woe and misfortune about how their car had broken down and they had spent all their money to get it repaired, or about how the car had been burglarized and all their cash stolen," he said.
"One victim said Allman dropped imploringly to one knee during his pitch to her," Hahn said, noting they would get the name and address of each victim and promise to return the money.
Often, the woman appeared to be pregnant, he said, and when the couple left with between $10 and $100 they would wave at their victims and say, "God bless you."