Con woman leaves jail, scams Athens area churches

WINDER, Ga. -- A Decatur, Ga.,  woman who had just gotten out of jail for a Toys for Tots scam was back behind bars less than a week later, accused of conning at least three churches with fake hard-luck stories.

Marsha Lynn Foster, who spent almost a year in the Barrow County Jail, was locked up again Tuesday on charges of running a new scam, Winder police said.


Foster, 48, was arrested last November for fraudulently soliciting Toys for Tots donations and didn't get out of jail until Sept. 29.

She immediately booked a room in a Winder hotel and called more than 115 churches, allegedly telling false hard-luck stories and looking for money to help "turn her life around," said Sgt. Rachel Love, a Winder police detective.

Police caught up with Foster at the hotel about 6 p.m. Tuesday and arrested her on a probation violation warrant and three theft by deception charges, Love said.

Investigators determined that Foster got money from at least three churches, two in Barrow County and one in Jackson County, but they believe that more churches were conned, Love said.

"It's not illegal for them to give - or to need help - but it is illegal for her to lie, to go about it in such a deceptive way," Love said. "That is illegal."

Winder police first arrested Foster on Nov. 23 last year, after she used the business card of an event manager at a Stars and Strikes bowling alley to talk local business owners into giving her donations for the area Toys for Tot's toy drive. She told some victims that they would be featured on two Atlanta radio stations for donating.

Foster extracted about $200 from three businesses before police uncovered the scam and arrested her on four counts of misdemeanor theft by taking and three counts felony financial identify theft, for posing as the event manager.

She was jailed until Sept. 29, when a judge dropped the felony charges, gave her credit for time served and put her on probation for a year, Love said.

Foster left the Barrow County Detention Center that day, walked to the Best Western Hotel at 177 W. Athens St., booked a room and started calling churches, according to Love.

"Most hotel rooms have a phone book. She opened it to the Yellow Pages and just started calling churches," said Love, who counted about 115 churches that Foster had called.

"That number is just based on the lines that were drawn through the names and stars she put beside some of the names," Love said. "She seems to have a code she used and would make notes about how many messages that she had left at each church."

She left as many as six messages at some churches.

Love now is calling those churches to see how many bought Foster's stories - and how much she netted. Love knows she raised at least enough money to pay for the $92-a-night hotel room for a week.

"(The spiel) was different for everyone, but she was always honest in the fact that (she told them that) she had just been released from jail," Love said. "She told them that she needed a hotel room paid for through the weekend because she's trying to turn her life around."

Foster told variations on a story that she would start a job Monday and needed someplace to stay until then, and would ask for money and gift cards to get her through until her first paycheck, Love said.

A different investigation led Love to Foster, she said.

"She was described to me (by someone close to her) as a hustler - that's what she knows and that's what she does," Love said. "And I'm not going to allow it to happen here. We're just not going to tolerate it."



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