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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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A 'trusting soul' is fleeced
Hillsborough deputies believe Mary Shower is one of many conned by a five-person ring.
By MICHAEL A. MOHAMMED, Times Staff Writer
Published August 18, 2007
Mary Shower, 77, owned a home in Tampa for more than 30 years. She was tricked into signing a mortgage and had to sell the house. She now lives at a Safety Harbor nursing home.
[Scott Keeler | Times]
TAMPA - Mary Shower, 77, trusted Ron and Lois Lichte when they arrived at her door to offer their help in January 2006.
"I'm just a trusting soul, I guess," Shower said.
But Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies have arrested the Lichtes, charging them with exploiting the elderly grand theft, money laundering, conspiracy and related crimes.
The couple, along with three other conspirators, swindled Shower and another Hillsborough woman out of at least $335,000, said sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway.
Detectives believe the quintet, some of whom have previous convictions of grand theft and exploiting the elderly, has struck many more bay area victims.
After her husband's death in 2000, no family remained to help Shower maintain the house she had lived in for almost 36 years. It had fallen into disrepair.
She started to look into hiring contractors, but was preoccupied with other worries. Arthritis had begun a slow and painful attack on Shower's legs.
At some point she hired three men to work on her house who deputies believe were involved in a scheme with the Lichtes.
Shower was taking painkilling medicine, and said she can't remember when the Lichtes showed up or how they'd learned about her. But she said they told her they could help her fix up the house.
Sometimes they took her to lunch. She thought of them as friends.
"They acted so friendly and helpful and everything," Shower said.
Soon they were bringing her checks and papers, she said, and she signed in a shaky hand without reading. She rarely saw contractors on the property, but assumed they were doing work on the exterior of the house.
One morning in May, Shower woke up and found she couldn't get out of bed. The pain of arthritis had finally crippled her legs, and an ambulance rushed her to the hospital.
So she asked Bette Slayton, who had been her aerobics instructor for 20 years, for help. Showers gave Slayton, 73, power of attorney to manage her finances.
Slayton said she became suspicious when the Lichtes came to the hospital to hand over Shower's financial records: a box of paperwork, insurance information, her checkbook and purse.
And the couple's demeanor seemed odd, she said.
"I didn't like them when I met them. They were over-friendly, you know?" Slayton said.
"When I went through her checks, I saw she was putting out money for a mortgage and money for a contracting company," she said. "A lot of money."
Deputies said Shower had paid over $115,000 for about $10,000 worth of work.
Also, the signature on the mortgage documents "didn't look like her signature," Slayton said. She asked Shower if she remembered signing a mortgage. Shower said no. "I said, ... 'Mary, you signed a mortgage for $175,000.' "
The payments had started at $600 in 2006 but rose each month, until she was paying $2,000. Next month her payment was expected to be $3,000 - equal to Shower's monthly income from her teacher's pension and her husband's mail carrier pension.
Shower's checking account had been drained of $10,000, Slayton said, and the conspirators were working their way through the mortgage capital. Shower had to sell the house to pay off the mortgage.
"You know, it just hits you like a ton of bricks," Shower said of losing the home she bought in 1970 with her husband, who died in 2000. "It just broke my heart."
Now she lives in a Safety Harbor nursing home.
Deputies arrested Lois Lichte, 64, and Ronald G. Lichte, 65, of 5412 Pine Bay Drive, Tampa, Thursday night. Both were released Friday on $90,000 bail.
Authorities are still searching for Clyde Fretwell, 37, of 1018 Canal St., Ruskin, and Joel Hill, 37 of 5122 Whispering Leaf Trail, Tampa.
Michael Richardson, 34, of 6148 46th Lane, Bradenton, is the fifth member of the alleged ring. He was already held without bond at the Falkenberg Road Jail after being arrested June 25 on unrelated charges, Callaway said.
Richardson's Florida Department of Law Enforcement record lists 22 arrests, with convictions for forgery, fraud, bribery and drug possession.