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Two-year investigation leads to 16 arrests

Jackson County_A Jackson County woman was cheated out of more than $50,000, and police say she was swindled by the people she thought were helping her.  Sixteen county residents were arrested in connection with scamming Margaret Martin of Blair, Oklahoma.  Reports say the suspects wrote checks using her account, and even had some of their own bills electronically paid from it.  Now, they are behind bars, and police want to ensure it does not happen again.

The investigation has been going on for nearly two years, and began in early 2006.  Thursday's arrests were the culmination of a lot of hard work.  Blair resident Margaret Martin says she thought she was trying to help out some folks in her neighborhood - Tony Lopez, Victoria Gutierrez, Andrea Lopez, and Martin Brown.  But, it turns out, the four were the ringleaders in a plan to rob her of everything she has.  "They'd leave me penniless if I didn't have a little bit more to fall back on," said Martin. 

The District Attorney's office sys the group was able to convince Martin to give them blank checks - which they wrote out for cash, and sometimes traded for drugs - totaling more than $50,000.  Shortly after their discovery, investigators issued 14 other warrants in connection to the crime. 

Blair Police Chief Joe Poulin says he's grateful for all of the help he received from area law enforcement - he issues a warning about fraud.  "Watch and be careful in who they're allowing to come into their homes and work," Poulin says. 

Police say that if you suspect fraudulent activity, or if you have any questions about independently hiring someone to help you around your house - with chores, gardening, handy work, etc. - don't hesitate to give them a call. 

Mrs. Martin's daughter now helps her with her money, so this is less likely to happen again.  The four suspects who were in on the ground floor of the scam, already had protective orders against them for violating the order when the arrest sweep began.

Count on 7News to keep you updated.

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