FOUR con-artists allegedly fleeced several unsuspecting business people of thousands of United States dollars after asking for change.
Luck ran out for the quartet, two women and two men, when they were arrested in Rusape last week after they had tried to play the same trick on an alert businessman.
The man’s employee pulled a movie-style stunt by jumping into the gang’s get-away vehicle and shouting for help as the vehicle sped off.
The gang was arrested after a high-speed chase.
In their modus operandi, Oscar Sibanda, Charity Tagwirei, Bakani Dube and Runyararo Marufu of Nyazura would ask for change for United States one-hundred-dollar notes. Once the change was handed over to them, they would bolt with the money before the transactions were concluded.
The gang has since appeared in court facing two counts of defrauding Zuva Service Station of US$2 870 and Redbart (Pvt) Ltd of US$1 582.
Rusape magistrate, Miss Ruth Moyo, remanded them out of custody to October 7 on $5 000 bail each.
Mr Marlon Makamba prosecuted, while Mr Leonard Chigadza of Chigadza and Associates appeared for the accused. Mr Makamba said two of the suspects would always approach the target, while the other two would remain in the idling vehicle ready to speed off.
“On August 19, Tagwirei and Marufu went to Zuva Service Station while Sibanda and Dube remained in the vehicle. Tagwirei and Marufu approached a pump attendant, Cuthbert Ziko, whom they had communicated with over the phone asking for USD smaller denominations.
The two claimed to have US$3 000 in one-hundred-dollar bills.
“Tagwirei handed over US$3 000 of one-hundred-dollar bills to Ziko. After counting it, Ziko put the money in his pocket. He then gave Tagwirei US$3 000 in smaller denominations,” said Mr Makamba.
However, Marufu claimed that she had given Ziko an extra one-hundred-dollar bill, thereby prompting him to retrieve the money from his pocket and handing it back to Tagwirei.
During this confusion, Tagwirei allegedly switched the US$3 000 package with a similar package containing US$130, mostly broken down in one-dollar notes.
When Ziko handed over the money to his supervisor, Jealous Loti, the scam was discovered but the gang had already sped off.
Mr Makamba said luck ran out for the four when they attempted to defraud a Chinese businessman, Kuo Yang, of US$2 200.
Sibanda and Tagwirei got inside Redbart Shop while Dube and Marufu remained in their get-away vehicle.
“Sibanda and Tagwirei approached a till operator, Yamakini Phiri, asking for change, but Phiri turned them down. They approached the shop owner, Kuo Yang, and Kuo agreed to swap their US$2 200 for smaller denominations.
“Sibanda counted 22 one-hundred-dollar bills and tied them with a rubber band. However, instead of handing the money over to Phiri, Sibanda put it in his pocket.
“Phiri handed Sibanda US$2 200 in smaller denominations. Sibanda then produced a roll of US$118 – mostly one-dollar notes – and handed it over to Phiri. He then dashed to the parked get-away vehicle,” said Mr Makamba.
However, Kuo and Phiri became suspicious and quickly checked the money. Phiri pursued the gang and jumped into their car’s loading box just as they were leaving the parking lot.
“The quartet drove towards Nyanga as Phiri was banging on the top of vehicle while shouting for help. Kuo teamed up with other motorists and gave chase. They intercepted the four at the 3km peg and effected a citizen’s arrest,” said Mr Makamba.