Mobile woman charged with bilking elderly victims in sweepstakes scam

Arrest of Felica Terrell comes four years after she was charged with similar offense
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 6:38 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Police investigating complaints of a scam traced payments to an address on Basil Street in 2018 and charged a woman who lived there with financial exploitation of an elderly person.

A judge found probable cause to send the charge to a grand jury, but then the case stalled. In the four years since, there has been no indictment.

This week, though, police arrested Felica Jackson Terrell again – this time charging her with seven additional counts. But the allegations are not new. They stem from warrants signed by a judge before Terrell’s 2018 preliminary hearing. For reasons that remain unclear, those warrants were not served on the defendant until Wednesday.

Mobile County District Attorney-elect Keith Blackwood told FOX10 News that a grand jury delayed consideration of an indictment and that prosecutors never re-presented the case.

Terrell, 60, appeared remotely from Mobile County Metro Jail for a bond hearing. A judge set bail at $21,000 and scheduled an arraignment for Thursday.

Blackwood said it is premature to discuss the case in detail, but court records lay out allegations involving tens of thousands of dollars sent purportedly to pay taxes to unlock sweepstakes winnings. Jonathan Friedlander, an attorney who represented Terrell in 2018, told FOX10 News that his client fell for the same scam. He said she did not profit from it and, in fact, spent her own money. When it was not enough, the lawyer said, the con artist who tricked her told her she could satisfy her debt by helping to process other payments.

“She was also a victim in this case, and she had been scammed as well,” he said. “And she’s, of course, willing to help police catch whoever it was to the extent that that’s possible.”

Terrell’s 2018 arrest related to allegations that a mysterious man using the alias James Anderson told an Arizona woman that she had won the contest and that she sent an $11,000 postal money order – the first installment of her supposed sweepstakes taxes – to Terrell.

The new charges list seven other victims, although in a civil suit that the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office filed in an effort to seize funds from Terrell’s bank account, prosecutors contend she admitted to cheating aa least 15 people.

The victims listed in the criminal complaints are:

  • A woman in Jackson, Mississippi, who sent more than $2,500 in March 2018.
  • A woman in Monte Sereno, California, who sent more than $2,500 in August 2017.
  • A woman in Philadelphia who sent $12,000 in January 2018.
  • A woman in Fort Edward, New York, who sent more than $2,500.
  • A man in Northfield, Minnesota, who sent $100,000 in February 2018.
  • A woman in Williamsville, New York, who sent more than $2,500 in November 2017.
  • A woman in Kerryville, Texas, who sent more than $2,500 in October 2017.

Friedlander said his client does not know James Anderson’s real identity.

“She figured out later on that, you know, something was up,” he said. “And then she terminated the arrangement and refused to do any more transfers. By that time, unfortunately, the damage was done, and Ms. Terrell was horrified to find out that these other people have been scammed.”

People fall for these kinds of scams more often than people might think, according to experts.

“It can be very exciting, you know, getting notification that you’ve won, you know, a million dollars, or you’ve won, you know, five brand new cars,” said Alex Derencz, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau serving in south and central Alabama.

Derencz said do far this year, people in the 50 counties his office serves have reported more than $160,000 in sweepstakes and lottery prize scams and nearly $1 million nationwide.

“That number could be higher; we just don’t know because, again, a lot of those scam interactions are not reported, and they really need to be,” he told FOX10 News.

Derencz said people should keep some things in mind to protect themselves. He said people should be suspicious if someone tells them they have won contests they have not entered. He said people should also keep records of contests they do enter. And, Derencz added, no legitimate contest will ask for money up front.

“If they’re saying, ‘Hey, in order to, you know, increase your chances of winning, you need to pay us this much,’ or you know, ‘You need to pay this fee,’ that should be a red flag right there,” he said.


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