Chicago — Prosecutors say a veteran scam artist defrauded two sisters of nearly $70,000 last January by posing as a representative from a charitable bill-paying organization aligned with Chance the Rapper.
But officials say DeMarco Franklin has no association with Chance the Rapper. And he has never been involved with the operation of CEDA, a charity that does, in fact, help people make utility bill payments.
“Sometimes non-violent offenses are just as bad or worse as violent offenses, and I would submit this is one of those times,” Judge Barbara Dawkins said after hearing the allegations against Franklin on Wednesday afternoon.
The sisters allegedly targeted by Franklin told their story to CBS Chicago last spring. Chicago police warned in November that the same ruse had been used to defraud other victims between February 2021 and March last year and possibly other times.
Prosecutor Tom Simpson said Franklin approached a woman outside a Bank of America branch on Chicago’s South Side on January 25, 2022, and offered to pay some of her bills through a charitable program. Using a fake name and stressing that time was of the essence, Franklin allegedly offered to prove his offer was legitimate by paying the woman’s phone bill. He allegedly name-dropped Chance during the fraud.
After she dialed 611 to connect with her carrier, she handed the phone to Franklin, who gave the company payment information, Simpson said. The woman quickly received a payment confirmation from the phone company.
During the call, the woman’s phone happened to take a picture of Franklin’s face, Simpson said, and that evidence would eventually lead to his identification.
Asked if she had any larger bills to pay, the woman put Franklin on the phone with her mortgage company. Once again, the woman received a payment confirmation almost immediately after Franklin purportedly paid off her bill.
At that point, Franklin asked the woman to consider donating to the charity to keep its services going. He recommended a $9,200 donation, and the woman went inside the bank, withdrew the cash, and gave it to him, Simpson said. Later, he made more fake payments and got another $9,400 from the woman as a “donation.”
Two days after the first meeting, Franklin called the woman to confirm that the payments he supposedly made for her were complete. After she confirmed that they were paid, Franklin told her the charity received more funding for a limited time, and the woman suggested that her sister might benefit from the services, Simpson said.
The sisters met with Franklin that afternoon at a Chase bank, also on the South Side.
Simpson said that Franklin repeated the scam, pretending to pay off the second woman’s mortgage and a Small Business Administration loan. He allegedly collected $50,500 in cash from her as a “donation” to keep the charity going.
Within days, both women received notices from all of the creditors that the payments Franklin allegedly made had failed to process, Simpson said.
Franklin’s voice was also recorded during phone calls with some financial institutions as he made the phony payments.
Simpson said Franklin used the same scam involving CEDA in 2008, although Chance the Rapper was not part of his act then.
An assistant public defender said Franklin is the primary caregiver for four children. She said he works full-time as a painter and drywaller and regularly attends and volunteers at his church.
He is charged with theft by deception.
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