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Police: Woman bilked of $348,000

The victim says she gave the man the cash after he said he needed help collecting an inheritance and promised to double her money.

The scheme began, police said, when Mifit Sula struck up a conversation in a Tampa restaurant with a woman from Louisiana.

Two days later, she met him in Clearwater and handed over $250,000 in cash, police said. In another week, she gave him $98,000 more, also in cash.

The 56-year-old woman told police that Sula, 40, said he would double her $348,000. Then he disappeared.

On Thursday, he was being held at Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail after he was extradited from New York. Sula, of 8409 Granite Place in Tampa, was charged with grand theft/scheme to defraud.

Clearwater Detective Jorge Carrasquillo said Sula was involved in a scheme similar to what is known as the Nigerian Scam: Someone claims to have to access to millions supposedly in Nigeria but needs a large amount of cash to get the millions.

"In this one, it was "I got money out of the country that I inherited, and if you give me the money to pay the fees to get it, I'll double your money,' " Carrasquillo said, adding that Clearwater police investigated the Sula case because the money changed hands in a bank parking lot in the city.

U.S. Customs officials at John F. Kennedy Airport arrested Sula on July 13 as he was trying to leave the country. With a ticket for a flight to Zurich, Switzerland, Sula told customs agents that he had $14,000 in cash to declare. Instead, records show, agents found $89,000 in cash in his possession.

Customs officials and New York police say the fraud was uncovered during the subsequent investigation.

The victim, who could not be reached and whose name is being withheld because of the nature of the crime, met Sula June 28 at Donatello, an upscale Italian restaurant on Dale Mabry Highway.

"She was there, eating dinner. He saw her and approached her out of the cold," Carrasquillo said, adding that the woman told him her apparel may have indicated to Sula that she was wealthy enough for his scam.

According to Pinellas court records, Sula told the woman that he was expecting an inheritance of $47-million because his father had died in Europe. Sula said he needed to borrow $250,000 to pay fees required to get his inheritance.

He promised to double her money if she gave him a loan, record show, and she paid him $250,000 on July 2.

Sula later asked for a loan of $98,000 more, claiming it was for additional fees because his inheritance was more than he expected, according to records. She gave it to him July 6.

Records show he told her he would pay her $696,000 _ double the amount she gave him _ on July 9. Sula refused to sign a promissory note, saying he was upset that she did not trust him. She called him July 10 when he had not repaid her, according to records, and he told her life is "a gamble."

Carrasquillo said only $89,000 of the money has been recovered.

"There are a lot of possibilities for what could have happened to it," he said. "It could have been sent overseas. Because it was cash, that makes it very difficult to trace."