Retired bricklayer, elderly blind man among victims in $630K inheritance scam

He stands to inherit a lengthy sentence.

A Virginia man has admitted conning a retired bricklayer, an elderly blind man and others out of more than $630,000 in an inheritance scam where he claimed to be the beneficiary of a multi-million dollar estate, but only if they could help him pay off his debt first.

Clarence M. Rice, Jr., 54, of Hampton, Va. pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion in the six-year scheme in which he convinced his victims and their families to give him more and more money with the promise that he would pay them back when he received his inheritance.

Rice roped his victims in by telling them he was the beneficiary of a trust he said was worth as much as $13 million, prosecutors said. He said the money came from an insurance payment resulting from the death of his father in an industrial accident in 1999. The one stipulation was that he could only receive the money if he was debt free.

But prosecutors said there was no trust and that Rice didn’t stand to inherit any money.

A message left with his attorney wasn’t immediately returned. According to court papers, when Rice was confronted by investigators, he claimed he never said he stood to inherit any money and that his victims were simply investing in his effort to file a wrongful death suit.

In his guilty plea, Rice admitted he knew his victims were of limited means and that the money he took from them would cause substantial hardship.

Investigators say in 2013 Rice first approached a 75-year-old acquaintance who was a retired bricklayer with the story of the inheritance money, and eventually convinced him and his wife to hand over nearly $370,000.

When the bricklayer ran out of cash, he then drew in his friend, a 74-year-old blind man, and talked him into giving Rice an additional $143,000, according to court documents.

The bricklayer also enlisted several relatives and their spouses to give Rice over $100,000 more, telling them it was a good opportunity with a guaranteed return.

In several instances, prosecutors said Rice provided phony documentation spelling out what he was in line to inherit and even put one victim on the phone with someone purporting to be an investment manager verifying the money was being held in a trust.

Eventually, one of the victims grew suspicious and contacted police in Virginia, who eventually turned the case over to the FBI and investigators with the Internal Revenue Service.

Prosecutors say Rice also directed his victims to give him the money in the form of checks written to “cash” and that he conducted most of his transactions using cash or prepaid debit cards, in an effort to avoid paying taxes on his ill-gotten gains. From 2011 onwards, Rice didn’t file any tax returns at all and failed to pay some $52,000 he owed, according to court documents.

Rice faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced in May.

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