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Police: Man uses sob stories to fleece victims


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 19, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- John Symonette, a small-time con artist and crack addict, has been telling strangers the same sob story for years and years, police say.

They say he's been scamming his way through several St. Petersburg neighborhoods recently, and they're looking for his latest victims.

Investigators say this is how Symonette works:

He goes door-to-door through a neighborhood, looking for elderly people. He tells them he's related to someone who lives nearby. Sometimes his father lives "four doors down."

Symonette, 37, tells them his wife -- or mother or mother-in-law -- has been hospitalized in Gainesville, and he desperately needs gas money to get to her. A $10 or $20 bill would really help him out.

"This guy is the consummate con man. He's very polished," said St. Petersburg police Detective R. Scott Jones.

Symonette was arrested again Wednesday. Police say he'd been bringing his act to the Kenwood neighborhood, and in the Old Northeast all the way up to 90th Avenue N, and as far west as 66th Street around 30th Avenue N. They think he has been doing this since late July.

At this point, Symonette is charged with 17 counts of scheming to defraud. Detectives think there could be as many as 100 people who gave Symonette money.

"He uses a specific scam," Jones said. "He ingratiates himself to elderly victims and tugs on their heartstrings. They all felt he was like their grandson.

Symonette has a lengthy record of fraud convictions. He was being held Friday in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective R. Scott Jones at 893-4816 or the Police Department's non-emergency number, 893-7780.

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