A Bartholomew County Jail inmate is facing fraud charges, accused of attempting to prey on local widows for financial gain.
Authorities say James C. Warner, 43, sent sympathy-laced letters to a local church in mid-September, attempting to get through to two specific widows.
“(The letters) were sent to the church with the widow’s name on the envelope,” said Chief Deputy Maj. Todd Noblitt, spokesman for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department. “They were attempting to get the money from the widows.”
Already incarcerated on methamphetamine-related charges, Warner added two felony counts of inmate fraud to his criminal resume Tuesday, when Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department Detective Kevin Abner concluded his investigation and received a warrant out of Superior Court 1.
Investigators believe Warner scanned newspaper obituaries to identify victims to target, and then sent heartfelt letters to the women’s church in an effort to get through to the women themselves. Noblitt would not disclose more contents of the letters, only saying they included fraudulent claims.
According to BCSD reports, Warner sent the letters to women in care of their church, but an alert staff member at the church contacted a Columbus police officer instead. The CPD officer instructed the church — which
Noblitt declined to name—- to reach out to county law enforcement about the suspicious letters. The BCSD then contacted the targeted widows.
“In both cases, the women said they did not know the man,” Noblitt said. “There’s always somebody out there that’s not looking out for your best interest.”
Outgoing letters from the jail come with what could be considered warning labels. They give a clear indicator the mail is from a Bartholomew County Jail inmate.
Jail Commander Sgt. Gary Myers has worked at the jail for 26 years, and has heard of other inmates sending letters with ill intentions.
“But for somebody to go to this extreme, this is the first,” Myers said.
Noblitt declined to comment on the amount of money requested by Warner.
“It’s just unbelievable that somebody tries to take advantage of someone in such a horrific situation,” Noblitt said.
Unrelated to the Warner case, local church officials say it’s not unusual for inmates to ask them for cash.
The Rev. Justin White, the senior minister at First Christian Church, received a letter Wednesday from an inmate claiming to be a member, asking for $40.
“It wasn’t threatening, but it was very manipulative,” White said.
“My immediate reaction was to find out if this man had any relationship with the church,” White said. “If he had a relationship with the church, then absolutely we would do something to help him.”
A similar letter targeted First Baptist Church in recent months, said the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dan Cash. That writer also sought financial assistance.
“My response to that was to call the Bartholomew County Jail and verify the need,” Cash said. “And in this particular case, they confirmed it wasn’t true.”
Cash’s response to the money-seeking letter is exactly what authorities encourage when people receive letters from jail inmates.
“We don’t know what the letters are saying when they’re sent out to people,” Myers said. “The thing I would tell people ... contact the facility immediately.”