ORANGE COUNTY, CA -- Orange County Deputy Sheriffs are on the lookout for a pair of con artists -- one of them a 12-year-old boy -- who tricked an elderly man and stole more than $200,000 worth of family heirloom jewelry from his home.
Luciano "Lucky" Capote, 86, of San Clemente, was walking his dog in his cul-de-sac Calle Hidalgo neighborhood at 11 a.m. Tuesday when a white SUV began following him, according to police.
The SUV pulled ahead of him and parked, said OCSD spokesman Jim Amormino.
A white man about 50-years-old got out of the car, along with a white boy about 12 or 14-years-old. The man told Capote he was a roofer working in the neighborhood and that many of the roofs were leaking. The man, who brought a ladder with him, offered him a free roof inspection.
Capote initially refused but relented, figuring that because the roofer had his “son” with him, there wouldn't be any reason to worry, he said.
Amormino said the boy had obviously been trained in distraction, keeping Capote occupied in his den while the imposter roofer rifled through Capote's home and stole the jewelry.
“He made me feel warm and nice because he was a young kid,” Capote said.
Amormino said the boy kept Capote distracted with questions about how he operated a massage device in the den and how to operate the television remote. Also, Capote said he is unable to stand or move around for long periods, so he remained sitting in one place as the man was rummaging through his and his wife’s belongings.
The imposter roofer started out climbing his ladder onto the roof while the boy kept Capote occupied inside.
Shortly after, Amormino said, the man came in holding a battered piece of shingle, saying, “‘This is your problem,’” and proceeded to go look for the “leak.”
Afterward, Capote said the man spent about an hour back in the house, out of Capote’s sight as he and the boy continued to converse.
Finally, the man returned and shepherded Capote into the kitchen, showing him a puddle of water on the floor and a wet ceiling above – water the man clearly put there himself, Amormino said.
The burglar then told the boy, “Come on, we’ve got to get up on the roof to fix this,” Amormino said. But that’s when the two con artists took their ladder and left with their loot, leaving Capote in his den thinking they were working on the roof.
Capote said he was ashamed he fell for the con.
“It just tells you how old I am that I didn’t see something that was obvious to you,” he said. “What gets me is not the stuff I lost, but that I’m so old.”
His wife, Betty Capote, came home from an outing with her friend to find the front door and garage door open wide. She worried at first that the paramedics had taken her husband to the hospital but forgot to close up. But when she went inside and Lucky Capote told her there were some people working on the roof, she was immediately suspicious.
She checked the house and found drawers wide open, the valuable jewelry hidden in the kitchen behind Lucky’s medication stolen. She was left only with her wedding ring, which she had been wearing out during the burglary.
She worried about the emotional trauma the con artists inflicted on her husband more than the stolen items.
“They made him feel old and more helpless than he is,” she said. “I’m always trying to build his confidence. You can replace jewelry, or you don’t need it.”
Amormino said there have been several recent cases in south Orange County of burglars posing as utility workers, city inspectors, gardeners and other types. Always demand proper identification from anyone attempting to enter your home unsolicited, he said.
If you have information on this crime, call Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS.