More MS news articles for July 2002

Scam victims refunded

June 28, 2002
Times Herald Staff

WHITEMARSH -- They came into the Lafayette Hill section of the township Saturday in a borrowed white 1996 Ford Explorer that was purportedly just out of the reach of the repo man.
They left, just before 6 p.m. Saturday, in police custody.

In between, a 26-year-old Philadelphia man wanted in Camden County, N.J., on various charges, and his 25-year-old housemate allegedly took their "girlfriends" on a rather odd double date -- collecting bogus donations.

The 26-year-old, Michael Galante, was identified as the subject who attempted to collect money from unsuspecting and well-meaning residents who believed they were giving funds to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

All told, at least 12 residences, including some in Plymouth Township, were visited and at least eight persons, mostly elderly, gave donations between $2 and $10, police said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, township police went door to door refunding the small sums of money to the victims of the alleged scam.

"Some made pledges, some turned him away," said Sgt. Stephen P. Schmitz, who added that the Plymouth incidents might be merged with those in Whitemarsh. "Although he was evasive when people asked him questions, he was convincing enough that they still gave him money."

The alleged scam lost its steam when a resident on the 2200 block of Oakwyn Road was suspicious of Galante's pitch and of the vehicle, prompting a call to police.

The caller heard the line from the accused Galante about how he lives "up the street" and that his mother has MS and he is collecting a donation.

However, after noticing a New Jersey license plate on the vehicle, meaning it was not from "up to the street," suspicion grew.

Officers arrived at the location at 5:44 p.m. and made contact with the occupants of the Explorer, which Schmitz said was borrowed from a family member and was wanted for repossession.

The driver of the alleged scam-mobile, 25-year-old Donny Lee Bickham, joined Galante in custody.

According to police, both Galante and Bickham, each of the same home address in Philadelphia, provided the same false name, "Mark" Bickham, when initially confronted by police.

Each was charged with providing false identification to authorities and related offenses.

Bickham was also charged with criminal conspiracy and identity theft and was cited for driving without a license.

Galante, purportedly the only member of the caravan to go door to door, was charged with theft by deception and criminal conspiracy to commit identity theft.

A 25-year-old woman from Port Orange, Fla., who is believed to be Galante's girlfriend, Kindra A. Miller, was also taken into custody.

Miller was reportedly transported to Bucks County after an active warrant for her arrest there was discovered.

A 23-year-old woman believed to be Bickham's girlfriend was eventually released from police custody.

In a similar but unrelated incident on Friday, police responded to the 500 block of Olivia Way in Lafayette Hill and were bombarded with complaints from residents about aggressive solicitors who were "not taking no for an answer" and not providing identification when asked.

Although these solicitors purportedly had a license to ply their seemingly irksome trade, police revoked the permit at the scene based on the complaints.

Galante and company did not get off that easily.

"The charges, although we're not talking about anything serious, are still piling up," said Schmitz, who added that at least two witnesses are expected to testify at a preliminary hearing slated for 1 p.m. Monday in front of District Justice Deborah A. Lukens.

Gordon Glantz can be reached at 610-272-2501, ext. 213.

©The Times Herald 2002