DOWNTOWN — Three men were arraigned Wednesday for allegedly scamming trusting people out of cash meant to support charities as they solicited donations on the Third Street Promenade, officials said.
Rodney Muhammad, 56, Derek Haskins, 53 and Santa Monica resident Jerry White, 53, were charged with misdemeanor counts of theft, identity theft, false advertising, forgery of a government seal and aggressive panhandling.
They were arrested after officials saw them displaying false credentials and asking people for cash for organizations like AIDS Health Foundation and Another Chance Ministry.
The arrests were the result of a joint investigation of the Santa Monica Police Department and City Attorney’s Office, which lasted for about a month, said Gary Rhoades, deputy city attorney with City Hall.
All charges stem from a sting operation conducted by the SMPD on Nov. 26, Rhoades said.
“We had complaints,” he said. “We’d all noticed these gentlemen on the promenade, just from City Hall being so close … and decided to check them out.”
An investigation into the three is continuing so that officials can pin down how long the men have been soliciting, how much money they may have taken and how many alleged victims are out there.
If taken by the giving spirit of the holidays, police recommend steps that people can take to keep themselves safe from scam artists.
Call the charity directly and make sure the solicitor is who they say they are. At the same time, ask what percentage of donations actually go to the cause as opposed to paying solicitors.
When asked for money, learn about the organization and ask for written information. Be on the lookout for copycats, “questionable organizations” that use names that are close to those of well-established charities.
“This happened during the holidays when people are opening their hearts and their pocketbooks,” Rhoades said. “’Tis the season for opportunistic criminals. Thanks to our police, that’s not the case here in Santa Monica.”