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Bellport woman turns tables on alleged scammers in 'distraction' burglary, cops say

"Violet" speaks after a news conference at police

"Violet" speaks after a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Credit: James Carbone

An elderly Bellport woman who was scammed by two men pretending to do a chimney inspection turned the tables on them when they came to collect what they thought was a payment, police said Thursday.

The so-called distraction burglary -- in which the resident is distracted by a scammer posing to be a repairman and then burglarized -- is under investigation by Suffolk police. They believe it may be connected to others that took place in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk.

"It's very clear they targeted the elderly," Suffolk Chief of Detectives William Madigan said of the suspected burglars at a news conference Thursday in Yaphank. "Based upon our investigation, we don't believe that this victim's alone."

Violet, 92, the victim, whose last name was withheld, spoke after the news conference. She said she had arranged for the chimney inspection with the men, who had contacted her by phone and claimed to work for a company called New York's Finest Home Improvements.

When they visited her home Saturday, one man distracted Violet while the other roamed around the house, claiming to test for carbon monoxide gas. Instead, he stole church envelopes and bank envelopes filled with $165 in cash, police said.

Madigan said the suspects also convinced Violet that she needed $3,000 in chimney repairs, and arranged a Monday meeting to collect their fee.

But, Violet said, "I noticed that something wasn't right."

After the men left, she looked up the company in the phone book. Finding no record of it, she contacted her neighbors, including a retired Suffolk police officer.

When the two returned, neighbors contacted police and the men were arrested. "I hope that many will be saved from having it happen to them," the victim said, adding, "You folks tell your folks to be careful."

Madigan said the men had printed receipts bearing the company name, but police found no record of the company at Suffolk County's Department of Consumer Affairs.

Bruce Wimmer, 32, of Bohemia, and Michael Windland, 28, of Lake Ronkonkoma, were initially charged with operating without a license and petty larceny. Later, they were also charged with second-degree burglary, and Windland was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance after he allegedly stole prescription drugs from the home.

The two were arraigned in First District Court in Central Islip Thursday.

Madigan said both are prior violent felony offenders, and Wimmer has been convicted in the past for a similar scam. Police have not released images of the men in case other victims are asked to identify them.

Madigan said anyone who thinks they may have been victimized by the suspects should contact Suffolk County Fifth Squad detectives at 631-854-8552.

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