This just in from the San Francisco Police Department: Alan Young, the East Bay's most notorious con man, is back behind bars in San Francisco, this time after passing himself off as a member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Those of you have been keeping track of the Alan Young saga know that he's been working the same con for decades: pretending to be musical legends in order to get folks to cough up cash for his big nights on the town, fancy duds and classy hotel stays. Sometimes, he'll reportedly get his victims in so deep they'll agree to open "joint" bank accounts with him to fund some kind of business venture -- then he'll raid the bank.
Chronically in and out of jail, Young was released from his last jail stint in early 2006, and a few weeks ago we got word that he might be up to his old tricks: a banker at a San Francisco Wells Fargo branch told us he'd been in the office rasing eyebrows by asking about opening a $30,000 business account with some associates, as well as how quickly he could withdraw a lump sum from it. An eagle-eyed bank customer recognized Young from previous Express coverage, alerted the bank, and the transaction never took place ... Young remained, as they say on TV cop shows, in the wind. Well, not for long, says the SFPD's Lieutenant Ken Lee, and this time Young's scam had a new twist -- credit card fraud.
Lee says Young was arrested this weekend after a disgruntled limousine service employee called to complain about him. According to Lee, Young had allegedly been using a credit card stolen from a person at a San Francisco hotel to pay for limousine rides -- his name didn't match the one on the card, so he claimed it was his wife's. He had also adopted a new identity as a member of the R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire, and had so impressed his limo driver with his celebrity status that the driver had agreed to front him cash for meals, hotels, and strip clubs. The fraud was discovered the next day when the driver's boss tried to verify the charges with the credit card's real owner. Young was arrested for credit card fraud and false impersonation; he was arraigned today and is currently in custody without bail. Since the current charges violate his parole agreement, says Lee, and because Young's criminal history is so lengthy, "he's looking at probably a couple of years of state prison."
The problem with prosecuting Young in the past has been that witnesses have been reluctant to admit they'd been scammed, hindering the district attorney's ability to build a case against him. It can also be difficult to prove malfeasance in scams like Young's, in which victims willingly part with money in what seem to be business transactions or friendly loans. Plus, up until now, Young had done a good job of avoiding the sorts of fraudulent transactions that would land him serious jail time. Most of his victims' losses were moderate, which made him a lower police priority, and rather than fraudulently using someone else's credit cards or bank accounts, which could result in identity theft charges, he convinced people to legally purchase things for him using their own money and names. Earlier in his career he had assumed the names of various musical stars, but in recent years he seemed to have wised up to the dangers of identity theft charges, and used his real name, while still claiming some association with Motown greats.
It's a bit ironic, then, that his recent arrest resulted from doing one of the things he'd cleverly avoided in the past -- using a stolen credit card. Why start now? "He's probably learned some new things in jail," muses Lee, who would like to see the prosecution go differently this time around. "Hopefully," he says, "everyone will cooperate."
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