Feds: Woman scammed deaf, elderly out of $1.2M, including York County couple

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
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A jury in Harrisburg's federal court has convicted a midwestern woman of scamming deaf and elderly people across the country and elsewhere of about $1.2 million, federal officials said.

The victims include a local elderly couple in Hanover, said Dawn Clark, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pennsylvania's Middle District.

The couple sent Donna L. Summerlin a total of about $500,000, depleting their life savings, Clark's news release states.

A sentencing date has not yet been set for Summerlin, 62, but a presentence conference is scheduled for Oct. 19, according to federal court records.

The Fortville, Indiana, woman was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, as well as conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, court records state.

Summerlin — who herself is hearing-impaired — acted as a "money mule" for an international advance-fee mass-marketing scheme to swindle people, her federal indictment states.

About the scheme: In advance-fee schemes, scammers tell targets they've won a lottery or sweepstakes, or some other sort of prize but must pay taxes, costs and fees before it will be released to them, according to the indictment.

The "winners" are instructed to send those payments by cash, check, money order or via wire transfer, the indictment states.

Summerlin received funds from at least 120 scam victims, then sent that money to co-conspirators in Nigeria and Great Britain, according to the feds, who said she also helped herself to large amounts of that cash.

In addition to victims in the United States, Summerlin scammed people in Canada and Australia, Clark said.

Between 2012 and 2016, more than 50,000 Americans sent money to advance-fee scammers in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, according to the indictment, and the fraudsters at the top of these scams typically pay "money mules" a percentage of the profits.

The victims targeted by Summerlin via Facebook, email and text messages were either told they'd won a "deaf lottery" or had been chosen to receive a special government grant or access to a special program, according to Clark.

Went back for more: After getting initial payments from the victims, the scammers would try to squeeze additional money out of them, and sometimes were successful, Clark said in a news release.

None of the victims received any money or prizes, according to the indictment.

Scammers also took control of some of the victims' social-media accounts so they lure those people's friends into the scheme, too, Clark said.

Following a weeklong trial, jurors took only about an hour on Wednesday to convict Summerlin of the felony charges against her, according to Clark.

The charges have a maximum sentence of up to 20 years, but that's not necessarily an accurate indicator of how much prison time Summerlin will eventually receive, Clark said, because sentencing judges must weigh a number of factors.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.