Two more plead guilty to ‘grandparent’ scheme

SAN DIEGO — Two more members of a national “grandparent scam” network have admitted their roles in the scheme, which took San Diego elders for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office shared the update in a news release Thursday, saying that Lyda Harris of Laveen, Arizona pleaded guilty that day in federal court and that Tracy Glinton of Orlando, Florida admitted her role last month.

They were the fifth and sixth people to plead guilty in a federal RICO case stemming from the scheme, with two final defendants named by prosecutors still at large.

Officials say the team of scammers took over $2 million from more than 70 older people across the nation, including at least 10 victims in the San Diego area who lost over $300,000. The scheme fed them “phony stories that their grandchildren were in terrible trouble and needed money fast.”

According to investigators, it would all start with a call to the elderly victims from someone who impersonated their grandchild or someone else close to them. “The scammer pretended to be in dire legal trouble because of an accident or arrest,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office explained in a news release. “He or she claimed to need money for bail, medical expenses, or legal fees.”

That introductory call would give way to an elaborate scheme involving multiple “actors” using a “well-rehearsed script,” investigators say.

“One would play the beloved relative; another would pretend to be a lawyer; and still others would pose as bail agents or medical professionals,” the explanation continues. “They provided victims with false case numbers, and they instructed the victims to lie to family, friends, and bank representatives about the reasons for the withdrawal or money transfer.”

Victims handed over tens of thousands of dollars to scammers who ultimately came to their doorstep to collect, according to officials.

The sprawling investigation began in San Diego with “one victim and a small loss,” but it rapidly grew to include victims in El Cajon, Escondido, Carlsbad, Bonita, Santee, Coronado and more than a dozen states outside of California.

Authorities first unveiled their investigation in August 2021, sharing a detailed account of an Oceanside 87-year-old who fell victim to the scheme as an example.

In their update Thursday, prosecutors shared details of the charges against the latest players to formally admit their role.

According to Harris’ plea agreement, “she received and funneled victim proceeds for a coconspirator to convert from fiat currency to cryptocurrency,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote. She agreed to give up more than $6,000 that she personally profited from the scam, and she’ll owe over $1 million to victims in restitution.

According to Glinton’s plea agreement, she helped one of the schemers handle the money taken from victims. She agreed to give up just under $10,000 she profited from the scam and owes more than $470,000 in restitution to victims.

Officials believe other victims of the scam may still be outstanding, and they urged people not to be too embarrassed to come forward and seek restitution. Potential victims were asked to contact their local police or sheriff’s departments, or the FBI.

Prosecutors named the two people still eluding law enforcement as Tracy Adrine Knowles and Adonis Alexis Butler Wong, both Florida residents.