AIKEN - Something was rotten, but it wasn't the fruit.
The fruit, in fact, never arrived.
At least 90 people have told the Aiken Department of Public Safety they were scammed by a man who said he was selling oranges to help his daughter pay for Schofield Middle School band expenses.
Officers allege that Rodney Ezekial Paige, 45, was not a band booster, and pocketed more than a thousand dollars at others' expense.
"He commented on the fact that he was a Christian, and I immediately trusted him" said Paul West, a victim whose business is just across the street from the public safety department. "But I still wondered why he wanted me to write him a check personally."
In addition, he said, he gave Mr. Paige a $30 loan in the Oct. 29 incident. The loan was to be repaid that day, but Mr. West never heard from the man again.
Mr. Paige, a Hill Avenue resident with no prior city arrests, has been charged with three counts of obtaining money by fraud - one specifically for fraud greater than $1,000. He also was wanted on three unrelated counts of financial transaction card theft. He was arrested late Thursday.
According to Schofield Principal Beatrice McGhee, the band forms were real and current when presented last year, but, for whatever reason, Mr. Paige chose not to give the money to his daughter's school. The fund raising culminated in December and goes to various pupil needs.
When confronted by police, Mr. Paige reportedly said the money was stolen from him. But he was eventually able to provide sales lists that were supposedly taken along with the money, police said.
Schofield Middle has a partnership with Aiken High School for band fund raising. High school band director Joseph Laorenza began fielding calls on Mr. Paige last year, then reported them to the school resource officer, according to a report. Mr. Laorenza deferred all comments to police.
Police said they've taken complaints amounting to about $1,350, but there could be more people who were duped. The boxes of oranges were $15 apiece.
Anyone who gave Mr. Paige money is encouraged to contact the department at (803) 642-7620.
Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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