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Fayetteville Police arrest alleged pigeon drop ‘mastermind’

Thomas Richardson (Photo courtesy of Fayette County Jail)

Fayetteville Police arrest alleged pigeon drop ‘mastermind’

By Danny Harrison


Fayetteville Police have finally cuffed the man they say has masterminded numerous “pigeon drop” cash scams in the city dating back to at least 2006.

Thomas Richardson, 63, of Lithonia was arrested Wednesday on four counts of Theft by Deception and taken to Fayette County Jail. Police say more charges are likely.

According to Lieutenant Mike Whitlow, his department was on to Richardson and got close to arresting him last year, but Richardson eluded officers.

“His vehicle was spotted by detectives near a location where the scam had just been attempted,” said Whitlow. “Fayetteville detectives then began surveilling Richardson, spotted him, followed, and watched as two members of his group approached a female victim and initiated the scam. Fayetteville Police thwarted the scam, and those two suspects, Marie Mangham and Juan Jackson, were apprehended, arrested, and convicted of Theft by Deception.

Fayetteville Police are shown in this picture transporting “pigeon drop” suspect Juan Jackson to Fayette County Jail after questioning in Feb. 2015. Jackson is believed to be an associate of Thomas Richardson, who was arrested by Fayetteville Police this week on Theft by Deception charges based on his own pigeon drop activities spanning 10 years. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

“Richardson was able to elude police and left the state shortly after,” Whitlow added.

A breakthrough in the case came Tuesday when Dekalb County Police encountered Richardson on a traffic stop. Whitlow said Richardson had a medical issue and had to be admitted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Downtown Atlanta.

Whitlow said Fayetteville Police officers sat with Richardson overnight Tuesday, and he arrested Richardson on Wednesday.

Whitlow said Richardson is suspected to have participated in 17 pigeon drop crimes in Fayetteville alone over the last ten years. He said Richardson is wanted in other states as well.

“This is the guy we believe was running the group,” Whitlow said, noting that after last year’s near-miss with Richardson, there have been no further pigeon drop reports in the city. “He actually has a record of this particular crime going back to the 70s. He’s a professional grifter. That’s his occupation.”

When Mangham and Jackson were arrested in February 2015, Whitlow said it was like catching “ghosts.”

“They’re looking for us, and as soon as they see us, they’re gone,” Whitlow said. “They’re gone.”

The so-called “pigeon drop” scam essentially is when a person pretends to have found a large sum of money on the ground and asks a victim if it is theirs. The perpetrator then engages the victim in a discussion about them sharing the money, somehow determining that it was probably ill-gotten cash that would be impossible to track back to the person who dropped it. At some point in the scam, the victim is convinced to withdraw a large sum of money from their own bank and to hand it over to the perpetrator in hopes of being included in sharing the seemingly larger sum of money.

The scam takes different forms, but usually it ends with the victim losing their money and gaining nothing in return, Whitlow said. He said one victim in 2010 forked over $25,000 which was never recovered.

Whitlow says bank employees generally do question these victims when they go inside to make the large withdrawals, but often the victims will lie about their reasons for doing so, which leaves bank employees unable to advise victims against participating in what they would no doubt suspect to be a scam.

“The victims are so enwrapped in getting free money,” Whitlow said. “It’s a powerful motivator, and [the perpetrators] know that.”

Whitlow said incidents of the pigeon drop scam have been recorded as far back as the 1930s during The Great Depression.

By Danny Harrison

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.