Alleged Scam Preyed on Homeless

A former Okemos woman is accused of preying on the homeless to get money.  According to a federal indictment, Taka Chiwocha scammed the government out of $1million.

MGN Online

Taka Chiowocha-Crowell is due in a federal court on June 2nd in Grand Rapids.  Her court-appointed attorney says she has not been arrested. 

A former Okemos woman is accused of preying on the homeless to get money. According to a federal indictment, she scammed the government out of a million dollars.

Court documents say Takabvako Chiwocha-Crowell who's now living in Texas, filed more than 600 phony tax returns in 2011 using information she solicited from people she met at shelters and soup kitchens.

Those who look out for the homeless aren't surprised. Three years ago, FBI agents raided a home in the Riverwood Park subdivision of Okemos, taking luxury cars and boxes of evidence. It's the same home where a tax business was registered with the state in Chiwocha's name.

Patrick Patterson, Executive Vice President of Volunteers of America says he's not surprised someone would target the homeless to make money. "Despicable. Really despicable, to prey on the weak and the poor and the vulnerable. It's pitiful."

In Lansing, the homeless are easy to find. They're often seen walking near the two main shelters, on North Larch and Michigan Avenue. Mark Criss, Executive Director of City Rescue Mission of Lansing, says homeless people are often victimized. "They have a need for things like cash, and so that's where the vulnerability happens to be. So our challenge is educating them not to share information that's confidential."

Criss says he's seen several cases where a family member has taken advantage of a homeless person. "We have a number of people, probably a third that are mentally challenged and so they may be qualified for disability and often times we'll find them that need help to meet their physical needs, only to find out later that they had a disability, maybe a family member is taking advantage of them."

Those who run local shelters say the homeless are used to giving out their social security number and many know it by heart. Criss says, "I think they're just very vulnerable because they don't check their credit. They don't check and see who's filed, they may not have filed for a couple of years. It's really unfortunately a good opportunity for people who want to run a scam."

Taka Chiowocha-Crowell is due in a federal court on June 2nd in Grand Rapids. Her court-appointed attorney says she has not been arrested.


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