Friday, September 30, 2011

Man accused of phony lung transplant scam

Police say Nick Scholten collected more than $65,000 for medical expenses

By Ray Pitz

Salem (Oregon) police are continuing their investigation into a Sherwood man they believed conned a relative out of as much as $60,000 after saying he needed the money for a lung transplant.

On Monday, detectives arrested Nick Scholten, 27, in a Sherwood parking lot, charging him with first-degree theft and first-degree aggravated theft. He was taken into custody and lodged at the Marion County Jail, where his bail was set at $100,000.

He did post bail during an arraignment on Tuesday and his next court appearance is set for Oct. 6.

Salem police reported that between May 26 and Aug. 9, Scholten’s 86-year-old great uncle, who is a Salem resident, gave giving Scholten $60,000 to cover medical expenses.

“(Scholten) used the money to pay off various debts and personal expenses,” said Salem Police Detective Jacob Pratt, who along with Detective Mike Korcek, investigated the case.

In addition to such items as televisions and two used Cadillacs, which police said he was planning to resell to make a profit, Scholten told them he used some of the money to “pay outstanding drug debts,” specifically to pay for marijuana.

Scholten’s story was featured in the April 28 issue of The Times. During an interview at the time, Scholten said that his lungs had been damaged from inhaling muriatic acid while working for a pool and spa company, and his condition was exasperated by exposure to toxic mold at his former apartment complex.

Double lung transplant
Scholten’s alleged actions began to unravel last summer when a U.S. Bank official suspected some type of elder abuse after noticing large amounts of money being withdrawn from the relative’s account.

Those included two checks for $5,000, two checks for $10,000, one check for $11,000 and one check for $19,000.

So police approached Scholten.

“When we spoke to Mr. Scholten in August, he stuck to his story,” said Pratt.

Police had their doubts and obtained several subpoenas to access medical records.

One of their first steps was to contact Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, where Scholten said he had the double lung transplant operation. Scholten had never been a patient there, hospital officials confirmed. Detectives then checked a national organ transplant registry and couldn’t locate his name, Pratt said.

After Scholten gave detectives the name of his local doctor, the doctor confirmed that Scholten was never in need of a lung transplant. A final call was placed to officials at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital who confirmed that if the Sherwood man had a double lung transplant, he wouldn’t be in any condition to fly back home in a week as he told his family he had.

“We had a pretty good idea it wasn’t true,” Pratt said after investigating Scholten’s story.

Pratt said when Scholten was supposedly in New York for the operation — which he told relatives included some heart surgery as well — he actually stayed at area motels.

Devastated and numb
Neither Roxanne nor Scholten’s wife are believed to be involved in the deception, according to Pratt.

Roxanne Scholten confirmed Tuesday that she had no idea what her son was up to and neither did her daughter-in-law.

“I’m devastated. I’m just devastated,” she said. “I’m still numb about the whole thing.”

Roxanne Scholten had held Tupperware parties to raise funds for her son’s medical expenses.

Alice Thornton, a friend of Roxanne Scholten, said she and other people in the community really believed that Nick was sick.

“He had all of us snowed,” she said. “He certainly told a good yarn, and everyone believed it.”

Pratt said Scholten also claimed to need surgery to replace a right bronchial tube in August and that surgery had never taken place either. In that situation, police say Scholten simply told his mother he needed the surgery (again allegedly at the same New York hospital) but never left Sherwood. He then simply “avoided her” for several days, they said.

In addition to taking money from his relative, Scholten is believed to have collected between $2,000 to $2,500 from a US Bank account set up in his name to defray medical expenses and between $3,000 and $5,000 from donations made directly to him, said Pratt.

Pratt said individuals who donated to Scholten can contact their local police to file a report in hopes of recouping their money. As of Wednesday, Capt. James Reid of the Sherwood Police Department said he wasn’t aware of any calls to the department related to the Scholten case.

Pratt said it would have been very difficult for the average resident to determine that Scholten was not being truthful.

“They couldn’t have done anything differently because it’s believable,” he said.

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