What a dirtbag!
Scam artist adds to misery for owners of missing pets
By Jim Buynak | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted February 26, 2005
OCALA -- On Feb. 7, Bob and Patricia Savage drove to the Gainesville airport to pick up Buster, their 11-year-old Boston terrier who had disappeared two weeks earlier.
But Buster never arrived.
It turned out that the Savages, like other lost-pet owners throughout the country, may have been hoodwinked by a scam artist in Atlanta, according to authorities. There were three victims in Marion County, including the Savages of Ocala.
On Friday, police in Georgia arrested Andre Lamont Gould, 34, on charges of theft and fraud in the Marion County cases, said Detective Art King of the Marion County Sheriff's Office. Gould was being held in an Atlanta jail on$26,000 bail. He also has been charged in some Atlanta cases.
The Sheriff's Office said Gould confessed Friday to conducting the scam in the past few months. He provided detectives with victim's names in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and California.
According to detectives, Gould would use the Internet to find lost-pet ads in newspapers and contact the owners. He would say he had found their missing pets and would offer to return the animals for the price of an airline ticket and pet carrier.
Buster disappeared the night of Jan. 23, Savage said.
"I went out to bring in a plant because it was freezing," he said. "I told him to 'stay,' and usually he does."
But that night, Buster apparently went outside unnoticed, Savage said.
Two weeks later they got a call from a man who said he had found their dog.
"He called my wife about 11 a.m. on Feb. 7 and said he was a truck driver and he found Buster when he stopped to check his tires," Savage said Friday.
"He said he fed him part of a chicken sandwich and he got in his truck. Buster is friendly. Too friendly. If someone comes to our door, Buster would think they were coming to visit him."
Savage said the man told him he had a friend at Delta Air Lines and he would put Buster on the next flight to Gainesville.
He even gave the Savages a tracking number to trace the flight, Savage said.
However, Savage said, the man said he needed $85 for the pet carrier.
Savage, a retired Marion County deputy sheriff, used his law-enforcement background to do some checking, and he said everything appeared to be legitimate.
"I probably was too excited, full of joy, because I was going to get my baby back," he said. "I should have been leery."
The Savages wired the money over Western Union and headed for Gainesville to get their beloved pet.
"Only one pet showed up on the flight," he said. "It wasn't Buster."
Savage had the phone number from the cell phone the man used to make his call.
"When I called it back, it was just voice mail saying the voice mail wasn't hooked up," Savage said.
Savage soon realized he had been taken.
He spent the next day calling telephone numbers in every lost-pet ad in the newspaper to see if anyone else had received similar calls.
He found two people who had received the same offer he did. All the calls were from the same cell phone number, he said.
Savage took his information to the Marion County Sheriff's Office, and an investigation began.
King said Atlanta police were already investigating the scam.
"He would claim to be a truck driver and tell them he found their dog on the road or at a truck stop," King said. "He would then tell them he has a friend with Delta Air Lines and if they would send him $100 for the flight and $85 for a dog carrier, he would send them their pet."
He would have the victims wire the money through Western Union. He didn't ask for the same amount of money from each victim, King said.
Anyone else who thinks they may have been contacted by a scam artist is asked to call King at 352-620-7820.
For Bob Savage, his hope of getting Buster back has dimmed but not died.
"I love my children, but Buster has never asked to borrow my car, never asked for money and, until Jan. 23, I always knew where he was," he said.
Savage, who can be reached at 352-694-4260, said he is offering a $500 reward for Buster's return.