A South Philadelphia man accused of conning an octogenarian World War II veteran out of his home, personal property, and two vintage cars was found guilty of fraud Friday and sentenced to 71/4 to 141/2 years in prison.
The Common Pleas Court jury deliberated about four hours before finding Melvin McIlwaine, 61, guilty of seven counts involving fraud and theft in a yearlong con in which he befriended Ray White, cheated him out of everything, and left him homeless.
White, now 90, arrived too late for sentencing, but said he hoped “more people will not be scammed as a result of this particular trial. . . . There are a lot of Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes out there.”
Dana N. Goldberg, a lawyer with the Senior Law Center in Philadelphia, which joined with the law firm Blank Rome to represent White in a lawsuit to recoup his possessions, said financial scams targeting the elderly are “rampant.”
Goldberg cited a recent report by True Link, a San Francisco financial services firm, that U.S. seniors lose $36.5 billion a year to financial abuse and scams.
“There is nothing more cowardly than to prey on the most vulnerable members of our society, the elderly,” Judge Angelo J. Foglietta said in sentencing McIlwaine, calling him a career thief and con who had no remorse.
Foglietta sentenced McIlwaine immediately after the verdict because McIlwaine had pleaded guilty and gone through a lengthy sentencing hearing on Feb. 5 – then changed his mind at the last minute and withdrew his guilty plea.
McIlwaine apologized to the judge, the prosecutor, and his own lawyer – but not White – for the delays, which included several purported heart attacks and a day last December when he went missing.
“I wasn’t trying to postpone this case,” McIlwaine told the judge. “Well, that’s about it. God bless you.”
Defense lawyer Michael Huff said he would appeal.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Cooper Nixon had argued that McIlwaine cynically dragged out the case, hoping White would die.
That was almost the case: White was supposed to have testified Monday but was hospitalized with an intestinal bug.
“I didn’t die,” joked White. “That was their plan. I was supposed to roll a seven, but I’m still here.”
According to court documents, McIlwaine met White in January 2012 when he stopped to compliment his 1964 silver Bentley and 1969 gold Cadillac convertible, parked in front of his house at 1208 S. Juniper St. The men started talking cars, McIlwaine introduced himself as “Mack Johnson,” and a friendship was born.
By Feb. 7, 2013, White was homeless, ill, and hospitalized after McIlwaine finagled away his cars, house, and personal possessions.
When he got out of the hospital a month later, White went to police and quickly got the support of veterans groups and the Senior Law Center.
Goldberg said the cars have been recovered and the lawsuit about the house and other possessions is pending.