Originally created 04/10/03

Police arrest 4 men in repairs scheme



ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - She was elderly, becoming forgetful and lived alone in a home that she cared for with pride.

That made the 86-year-old St. Simons Island widow the target of a home-repair fraud scheme that an investigation indicates involved the theft of at least $83,000 over about 1 1/2 years.

Four southeast Georgia residents have been arrested and two other people are fugitives wanted on federal charges in the case, FBI Special Agent Tony Alig said Tuesday.

They are charged with participating in a scheme that defrauded the woman for home repairs and construction work that was never performed, according to the indictment.

The wire fraud charges stemmed from individual transactions in which the woman sent money out of state to pay for the bogus repairs, Agent Alig said.

He identified those arrested as Sean Dylan Olds, 28, of Jesup; Eric Scott Brantley, 20, also of Jesup; Christopher Benjamin, 24, of Brunswick; and George Michael McGahee, 30, of Waycross.

Authorities were searching for Mr. Olds' mother, Brenda Thrift, 51, of Alma, and Christopher Palese, 36, of Daytona Beach, Fla., who both remained at large, Mr. Alig said.

All six are charged with wire fraud in a 24-count federal indictment unsealed Tuesday. Each count is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The indictment was the first phase of an investigation that U.S. Attorney Rick Thompson said continues in an effort "to determine the extent of other individuals' involvement" in the scheme.

The woman, who now resides in an Atlanta assisted-living facility, couldn't be reached for comment. Authorities withheld her identity because not all the suspects have been arrested.

Authorities said the investigation began when the woman's friend, Bob Bledsoe, became suspicious after seeing a group of workers at her home several times when no repairs were needed. He contacted her nephews in Atlanta, who then alerted police.