A father and son scammed mid Pinellas women in their 70s and 80s by saying their vehicles had radiator problems and charging the victims to make repairs, authorities say.
Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrested James Phillip Holton, 46, and James Thomas Holton, 24, in St. Petersburg Monday after watching the men apparently cause a leak in a vehicle's radiator and then approach the owner to fix it, deputies said.
Detectives say the first incident happened about a month ago. An 81-year-old woman returned to her car in the parking lot of a Madeira Beach shopping center and was told that her car was leaking coolant. The men charged her $175 to replace the radiator fan. Similar reports came from Madeira Beach, Seminole and South Pasadena. Victims described them as an older and younger man in a blue pickup truck.
Authorities say there have been six known incidents, but suspect there may be many more victims. Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Bordner said in one case a woman had her car towed to a repair shop only to be told nothing was wrong with it. An employee at the shop said they had seen three similar cases just that day, Bordner said. In another incident, the suspects drove a victim to buy parts for the car.
"We're discouraging anyone from ever getting in a stranger's car," Bordner said. "They can take you anywhere and do anything to you at that point."
One victim gave authorities a license plate number, but detectives couldn't track the men because they didn't have a permanent address, deputies said. They began surveillance on areas where the men were seen before.
On Monday, detectives saw them at the Rutland Plaza parking lot at 1049 62nd Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Authorities said the older man crawled beneath a Nissan, re-emerged and wiped off his hands. When the 67-year-old woman started the car, coolant gushed out.
The man approached the vehicle and offered to help, but detectives arrested the men, authorities said.
The men were charged with felony grand theft, scheming to defraud, burglary and misdemeanor criminal mischief. Both were being held at the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday in lieu of $80,500 bail.