Tina Ziko, Geno Ziko and Gilda Stanley
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Three members of a Lawrenceville family purporting themselves as operators of a recycling business are in jail for allegedly scamming jewelers across the country out of depleted watch batteries, a valuable source of silver.
Police have linked the mail-based scam to at least three Western and Great Plains states, and business watchdogs have received a complaint from a jeweler in Mississippi, officials said this week.
Lawrenceville residents Tina Ziko, 37, her son Geno Ziko, 21, and daughter-in-law Gilda Stanley, 21, were jailed Monday on counts of theft by deception in the alleged ruse. They're being held without bond on the felony charges.
Authorities believe the family contacted jewelers in Montana, Arizona, Nebraska and Mississippi, holding themselves out as employees of Lawrenceville-based Master Metals Inc. and requesting depleted watch batteries for recycling. The batteries can fetch handsome payments from refiners who extract the silver.
Police said the scammers received hundreds of dollars worth of dead batteries and never sent money they'd promised jewelers.
The family's modus operandi apparently had variations.
In Lincoln, Neb., the owner of Northstar Jewelry, John Brown, told police a woman called him repeatedly soliciting his used metals earlier this year.
"Ultimately, he received an envelope from Masters Metals, similar to many popular cash for gold opportunities, in the mail without asking for it," said Lincoln Police Department spokeswoman Officer Katie Flood.
The owner eventually caved and sent $100 in watch batteries in hopes of seeing money returned. As time passed, he researched the business, thought it to be a scam and came forward to police on Feb. 25, Flood said.
In Waynesboro, Miss., the owner of Henderson Jewelry reported to the Metro Atlanta Better Business Bureau that a woman calling herself "Polly Moore" faxed a UPS pick-up for batteries and never sent a check in return, said BBB spokeswoman Dottie Callina.
The Master Metals business is not BBB accredited and is not listed with the Georgia Secretary of State's Office.
The company's address on Whitman Place in Lawrenceville leads to a powder-blue, two-story home on a horseshoe-shaped cul-de-sac in the Orchard Grove subdivision off U.S. Highway 29. Nobody answered the door Wednesday; a "For Rent" sign stood staked in the front yard.
A number listed online for the business directs callers to a cellphone answering service.