NORCROSS -- Sheriff's Department authorities are investigating an alleged shyster who ripped off a Gwinnett dignitary and longtime school board member after being contracted for tree services.
Victimized in the June transaction was Louise Radloff, 76, a Gwinnett Public Schools board member of nearly 40 years -- among the longest tenures in Georgia -- once named the county's "Citizen of the Year," officials said.
Jackson County resident Edward Nelson, 46, is accused of ripping off Radloff for $900, according to his arrest warrant. Nelson remained at large Wednesday. Radloff could not be reached for comment.
"We're looking at the possibility that there are other victims of this particular scam as well," said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais.
Radloff told deputies this week that Nelson had been working in her Norcross neighborhood in June when he approached her and her husband, Richard, about possible tree work. They agreed on a price of $1,800, and Radloff cut a personal check for half that as a down payment, which was cashed that day, according to a Sheriff's Department report.
Then, Nelson vanished.
Over the next several weeks, Radloff left phone messages with Nelson and employed her attorney to send a letter demanding the services be performed. Nelson has not responded, and the telephone number he provided has been disconnected, the report states.
Deputies have not been able to locate Nelson at the Talmo address he provided Radloff. He's charged with felony theft by deception.
Atlanta Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Dottie Callina said, on the surface, the situation appears to fit the criteria of an itinerant worker scam, which are known to target the elderly.
"I would say they target the elderly more than those who would question their business practices," Callina said, "and that's because our senior citizens are the most trusting of us all."
Other scams targeting Gwinnett seniors have involved basement remodeling, driveway resurfacing, various telemarketing ploys and the "grandparent scam," where a caller pretends to be a grandson in a bind who needs money.
Nelson has twice been arrested in Gwinnett on charges of theft by deception. His most recent employer is listed in jail records as "Nelson's Tree Service."
Radloff, who represents District 5, has served on the school board since 1973. An eponymous middle school honoring Radloff opened in Duluth in 2004.
The Gwinnett County Board of Health named its Lawrenceville administrative center after Radloff, chairwoman of that board and a reputed advocate of public health.