ST. PETERSBURG — Miguel Ramos and Brandie Burrows showed up at a 7-Eleven on Monday afternoon expecting to bag $34,000 from a man who had been blackmailed for nearly a month, according to police.
But they were the ones being set up. Detectives were tipped off to the meeting. Soon the pair were in handcuffs and on their way to the Pinellas County Jail.
Ramos, 33, and Burrows, 29, were accused of being involved in a plot that had already duped a 62-year-old Bradenton man out of $42,000, according to police.
"In a nutshell, it's a convoluted scheme," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.
The Bradenton man was not identified by police because the investigation is ongoing. Police said the scheme began about a year ago, when he met a woman in an Internet chat room. Eventually, they arranged to meet at a house in St. Petersburg.
"She performed a sex act on him. He paid her money," Puetz said. "They had some phone contact after that but never any more physical contact."
Then, in early November, the man started getting phone calls.
The first, police said, was from a woman who claimed to be a detective in Vero Beach. She told the man that she had been investigating him, police said, and that the woman he'd had sex with months ago was actually underage.
But the "detective" offered the man an out, according to police. She said that sometimes families accept a cash settlement in lieu of filing criminal charges.
She gave the man a phone number for the girl's mother. When the man called, police said, the woman on the other end demanded $10,000.
The man agreed to a Nov. 8 meeting in St. Petersburg, at the 7-Eleven at 5301 34th St. S, where a man and a woman arrived in a taxi. The Bradenton man handed over the money, which he took out of his savings account.
He thought it was over.
But days later, he got another call. That woman claimed to be associated with the courts. In order to keep the incident out of the criminal justice system, police said she told the man, he would need to pay court costs — thousands more, in fact.
On Nov. 10, he was back at the same 7-Eleven. He handed over another $10,000, police said. But that didn't stop the demands.
Police said the Bradenton man received a third call a few days later. The woman said she was an attorney in Orlando.
"She says that they have a video of him doing the sex act," Puetz said.
She told him he needed to pay more money to avoid more court action. Once again, the man agreed to meet at the 7-Eleven on Nov. 18, according to police, this time handing over $22,000.
The final call came on Thursday, police said. This woman claimed to be an attorney and wanted tens of thousands more.
This time the man balked.
"He talked to a relative," Puetz said. "The relative convinced him this wasn't right."
The man poured his story out to detectives, who then arranged a sting of their own at 2 p.m. Monday at the 7-Eleven where all the meetings took place.
Ramos told police he was involved in the scheme. He was arrested on four counts of extortion. He was being held Tuesday in lieu of $70,000 bail.
Burrows was arrested on a charge of being a principal to extortion. She was freed from jail on Tuesday.
Detectives said they are still looking for others who may be linked to the scheme.
But police couldn't say if the calls came from one woman, or multiple women, or who else was involved in the 7-Eleven meetings.
They're also looking for the woman the Bradenton man met online. Puetz said there is some doubt about whether she was a juvenile.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.