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Paraplegic charged with swindling $400,000

| Friday, May 27, 2005

Shirley Kutchman didn't know Alexander Wright, but she thought she knew Robert L. Beck -- a nice guy in a wheelchair who had a flair for finances.

But what the 74-year-old Kutchman didn't know was that Wright and Beck were the same person.

And Wright's talent for finances involved enhancing his own personal wealth through others' fortunes and misfortunes, according to state police at Uniontown.

"He was very charming and nice and, we thought, capable," Kutchman said Thursday.

Wright, 48, of Indiatlantic, Fla., is charged with swindling Kutchman and her son, Kevin, of Hopwood, South Union Township, out of more than $100,000.

He appeared Wednesday in a wheelchair and was arraigned before Senior Magisterial District Justice Lawrence Blair, of Uniontown, on charges of theft by deception, writing bad checks and violations of the state securities act. He was freed on $5,000 bail.

Police expect to file more criminal charges against Wright, including one involving a $250,000 investment that William Conn, the stepson of the late Uniontown philanthropist Robert E. Eberly Sr., said he made with Wright.

In all, police said six Fayette County residents were allegedly deceived out of nearly $400,000 by Wright, whom they believed to be a day trader, a very active stock trader who holds positions for a very short time and makes several trades each day.

Authorities also plan to charge Wright with allegedly swindling his nephew out of nearly $185,000 through identity theft and unauthorized credit card use. Police said Wright claimed to be his nephew, Robert L. Beck, during his alleged investment schemes.

The nephew and his wife lived in Allegheny County, but since have moved to West Virginia.

Wright, who also resided in Oregon, arrived in Pennsylvania in March 2001 and at first lived with his nephew in Allegheny County. Wright remained in the state until the summer of 2002.

Kutchman said she met Wright, whom she said has been a paraplegic since he suffered a childhood accident, through Conn and others. Wright had office space in the National City Bank in Uniontown, the same building where the Robert E. Eberly Foundation is based, she said.

"Bill Conn was working with him at the bank building," Kutchman said. "We met through him ... and others."

Attempts to reach Conn, 50, of Uniontown, and Wright's nephew for comment were unsuccessful yesterday.

Kutchman said Wright eventually moved his computers from the bank building to a rented home at 338 Derrick Ave. in Uniontown. He was there perhaps a week, Kutchman said, and left town.

"It was just in the middle of the night," she said of his departure.

Later, her family received a letter.

"He left and wrote us a letter that he would be back," Kutchman said. "We had a feeling he wasn't coming back."

Trooper Timothy Knapp, the arresting officer, claimed Wright fooled his victims by saying he wanted to make them -- his friends -- richer.

"I think he just built a friendship with them," the criminal investigator said. "I think he played himself with, 'Look what I've done (financially) ... and I can do this for you.'"

Knapp said he was forced to file some of the criminal charges on Wednesday because that was the day that Wright was scheduled to be released from a federal prison in Florida. The filing of the charges helps authorities to keep tabs on Wright, the trooper explained.

Wright was last in the federal penitentiary for a parole violation, court records showed. His previous prison time involved fraud-related charges, according to sources.

Wright also has used the name Rod Beck, documents showed.

The incidents involving the Kutchmans began in 2001.

Police said that Wright, while posing as Robert L. Beck Jr., got Shirley Kutchman to give him a $45,000 check as an investment. In exchange, he gave her a postdated check -- one with a future date to be cashed later -- for $48,500. That check represented the amount of Kutchman's investment, plus interest, police said.

Wright then asked her for another $5,000, telling her "he could double her investment," according to an affidavit of probable cause.

He gave her another postdated check, this one for $85,000, which represented her total investment and return, court papers said. That check was dated July 29, 2002 -- the day that authorities said Wright left Uniontown.

Kutchman learned from Robin Johnson, an investment representative at Edward Jones, that the $85,000 check was written on a closed account, police said.

Two other checks that Wright gave Kutchman from a Parker/Hunter account -- for $4,200 and $2,000 -- were returned for lack of sufficient funds, police said.

Authorities determined that Kutchman's initial $45,000 check was put in an account at Edward Jones and was used by Wright to pay personal bills, court papers showed.

Kutchman's 39-year-old son said he gave Wright $7,000 to purchase mobile homes to refurbish and then rent.

"(Kevin) Kutchman advised that he learned from Mary McCullough, of Conseco Finance, that Wright never sent any money to complete the purchase of the trailers," the affidavit said.

Kevin Kutchman also gave Wright $62,000 to invest. On Oct. 21, 2002, he was to receive a profit of $45,000, police said.

The $62,000 was sent via a wire transfer June 4, 2002, to a former Prestige Bank account. The account belonged to Wright's relatives, Robert L. and Angela Beck, police said.

On the same day as the wire transfer, $33,308 was removed from that account via a cash withdrawal, and another $20,000 was wired to another account, police said.

"Angela Beck and Robert L. Beck Jr. advised that Alex Wright was using their account to funnel funds through same," the affidavit said. "Angela Beck advised that Alex Wright would have funds wired into this account and have them move the money to his other accounts or write checks to pay other people."

The Becks confirmed to police that the person known by the Kutchmans as Robert L. Beck was actually Alexander Wright.

Authorities also determined that neither the state Securities Commission nor the National Futures Association in Chicago had records of registration for Alexander Wright or Robert Lee Beck Jr. as a financial broker, dealer or agent. Police said such registration is required by law.

The preliminary hearing for Wright will be held before Blair.

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