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4 charged in home-care service scam

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 6:00 p.m.

A statewide scheme that tricked more than 200 senior citizens into spending thousands of dollars for home-care services they never received led to the arrests of four Philadelphia-area men, the state Attorney General's Office said Tuesday.

The scam spread across 41 Pennsylvania counties and three other states. Investigators identified at least 218 victims, including seven in Allegheny County, one in Beaver, five in Butler, two in Washington and three in Westmoreland counties. The average age of the victims was 83, Attorney General Linda Kelly said, and the four suspects pulled in more than $700,000.

"This was a disturbing and despicable scheme designed to extract as much money as possible from unwitting seniors who believed they were protecting themselves against costly future home-care expenses," Kelly said.

The Attorney General's Office would not reveal the names of victims, fearing the victims could again become targets of scammers.

Charged Monday were: Bruce Howard Cherry, 52, of Philadelphia; Ross M. Rabelow, 52, of Bucks County; Thomas J. Muldoon, 57, of Delaware County; and Robert P. Lerner, 56, of Philadelphia. All are in custody in Montgomery County, according to the Attorney General's Office.

The four sold contracts for services -- usually home health care and medical equipment -- which they never provided, a state grand jury found.

"These businesses were little more than names on pieces of paper," Kelly said.

Don Grant, supervisor of protective services for the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging, said scammers have developed methods to take advantage of the elderly using debit cards, Social Security and pension checks. He advised older people to check with the Attorney General's Office or Better Business Bureau for complaints against a company, to keep sensitive information in a secure location and to trust their instincts.

"Sometimes people are too much in a hurry to trust someone else," he said. "They want to trust them."

In one of the worst cases, Kelly said the suspects stole more than $57,000 from a woman.

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