A Stafford Springs man who was accused of promising to help more than a dozen veterans, then scamming them out of half a million dollars, has pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of restructuring currency transactions.
John J. Simon Jr., 69, of Stafford Springs, was accused of defrauding 15 victims of $510,000 under the guise that he paying a lawyer to help them obtain Social Security benefits and money from Veterans Affairs claims.
The victims told investigators that Simon never got them their money and investigators said they were not able to find the attorney Simon claimed to be working with.
Police said the alleged scam started in June 2011 and several victims gave Simon less than $2,000, so the statute of limitations for those misdemeanor charges expired, but others gave him more than $2,000, according to court paperwork.
Leslie Clark told NBC Connecticut she and her husband, Army Vietnam veteran Kenan Clark, were defrauded for years by Simon.
Clark said she and her husband trusted Simon would assist them in getting Veteran’s Administration and social security benefits based on Kenan’s disability, Lymphoma, which claimed his life in April 2015.
“So John said that he could help us and he said that he could not only obtain benefits for now but that my husband was owed money through the Veterans Administration from Agent Orange and his disabilities,” Clark said.
They paid Simon $6,000 for his assistance, but they had never received any correspondence from the social security administration or the VA.
“That’s when we realized that it was a scam,” Clark explained. She went to police with her concerns.
“I just want to see him get what he deserves because he didn’t just hurt us he hurt other people, too. And as I said they were deserving people -- veterans with disabilities,” she said.
Another victim, who served in the military from 1964 to 1967 and has back and hearing issues, told investigators he went to Simon for help in March 2012 at the suggestion of a friend and Simon brought him to the VA Medical Center in Newington to register for services, according to court paperwork.
Later, Simon contacted the veteran and said a lawyer determined that the veteran should have been medically discharged before he even served, court paperwork says.
Simon went on to tell the victim that attorney could get him $1 million in back pay, according to court paperwork.
Between March and October 2012, the veteran gave Simon $19,700 in cash that was supposed to go to the attorney.
At some point, the veteran spoke with a friend who presented the veteran with a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that said Simon was under federal investigation, police said.
Armed with the letter, the veteran confronted Simon.
Simon claimed the charges had been dropped and that people were telling lies about him, according to police paperwork.
When the veteran asked for his money back, Simon said the benefits were coming soon.
The date he provided came and went with no check to the veteran and it was not until the veteran filed his own application that he received benefits, according to police.
Investigators spoke with another victim on April 4, 2012 who met Simon in 2010 and gave him $10,600 in cash between September and December 2011, according to police. The rest of his story was similar to what the first victim told investigators and he said Simon came to him several times, asking for money for the attorney.
When that victim asked about paying the attorney by check, Simon claimed he’d paid the man and the money was for reimbursement for Simon, according to police.
Then, during an event at the American Legion Hall in Stafford Springs, the victim and his wife heard people talking about someone who promised to get benefits for someone and cheated the person out of money.
When the second victim’s wife asked about it, she realized the man who committed the alleged scam was Simon, according to police.
When police spoke with Simon, he told them he was helping veterans who were entitled to benefits because the VA made it difficult for the average person to obtain them.
He also admitted to taking some money for helping veterans, but said it was just a small amount to cover his time end effort.
Court paperwork says Simon works for veterans, charges them for help, makes phone calls for them and charges $200 to $300 per hour.
Police also claim Simon was structuring bank deposits in a way to hide the fact that he received several hundred thousand dollars.
Simon was arrested on three warrants on May 15, 2013 and charged with two counts of second-degree larceny, and one count of third-degree larceny.
Simon was released on bond and will be sentenced on Jan. 10, 2017.
He has agreed that $210,085.58 that the IRS seized from his bank account in October 2010 will be used to pay restitution to the victims of his criminal conduct.