Florida Grandmother Arrested for Scamming Friends out of More Than $1 Million

Doris Siegel, 78, has been arrested and charged with scamming friends.

March 31, 2010, 11:58 AM

March 31, 2010— -- Florida cops are trying to figure out what alleged "granny scammer" Doris Siegel did with the more than $1 million that police say she bilked out of her friends and her pastor.

Police are also asking people to come forward if they believe they are victims of Siegel's alleged scam.

"We have had more victims come in, but we're still seeking more victims," Brooksville Police Chief George Turner told ABC News today.

Siegel, who is 78, was arrested last Wednesday. She remains in jail in lieu of $50,000 in bond.

"She admitted she lied to these people, but said she doesn't know why," the police chief said.

Turner is also at a loss to explain why Siegel allegedly went on a five year scam spree that authorities say began after she was duped out of more than $10,000 by Nigerian hucksters in Holland.

"I've seen cases like this before, where victims have been suckered in, but never had a case where the victim went out and victimized about 14 other people to send their money over. She went from being a victim herself to a perpetrator," the police chief said.

The chief is also taken aback by the results of Siegel's alleged scam.

"Some gave small amounts, 300 bucks, another for $330,000. A couple gave $78,000. They live in a trailer park and are going to be foreclosed on now. They have nothing. That was their life savings and it's now gone," Turner said.

One of Siegel's alleged victims, James Ford, spoke to ABC News and said Siegel talked him into giving her $22,000 and that she pawned jewelry that had great sentimental value to help Siegel.

The money, he said she told him, was needed to pay the taxes on her lottery winnings and when she collected her money she would pay him back twice what he gave her, Ford , 50, told ABC News.

"She seemed like the most sincere, sweetest woman you'd ever want to meet in your life. She knows exactly what she was doing," he said.

Alleged Scammer's Victims Left Impoverished

"I pawned jewelry five times for her. My mother's ring and other sentimental pieces, stuff you can't replace," Ford said.

"That woman's got me for everything I ever had. Talked me out of every penny of my life savings. I truly thought I was helping this sweet little old lady," he said bitterly.

"There are more people who won't even come forward. Other's who gave their life savings," Ford said. "Now for them it's, do I buy medicine or food?"

Ford said he helped police record Siegel discussing her need for money for a Guatemalan mission that she runs.

Later in a police interrogation video, Siegel is heard telling investigators, "OK, so I lied."

Police and court documents said that Siegel and another friend were lured to Holland in 2008 with the promise that she had won a $1 million lottery. She was met by four men who said she had to hand over $10,000 to see the loot.

After giving them the cash, Siegel was taken into a room with stacks of what appeared to be money and given a $100 bill. She was told to go home, and more money would follow.

Despite being told by police in 2004 and again in 2008 that the Nigerian lottery was a scam, it's not clear whether Siegel ever gave up on the idea that she had been bilked.

Over the next few years, Siegel hit up friends for money, police said. Some were told the money was for a Guatemalan mission she had started for starving children, while others were told she had won a lottery and would be able to double their money in a month, Turner said.

"We don't know yet if the money was for personal use, living, or if she sent it over for this lottery," he said.

"Even if she was duped and still believed she would get this money eventually from the Nigerians, she is still lying to those people and telling them it was legitimate," the police chief said. "She acquired money by false pretense... I guess she did whatever she did to get the money. When it all pans out we'll find out where money went to."

"We didn't find a mattress full of money, but we haven't gotten all her bank records yet," he said.

Thinking of the alleged victims, Turner added, "If she sent it away to these guys [in Holland], we're never getting any of it back."

Siegel Allegedly Bilked Her Own Pastor

Among the alleged victims was Siegel's pastor.

"She said she had a mission in Guatemala somewhere and she was supporting it and some of our church members gave money for it," Pastor John Sabo of the Brooksville Seventh-Day Adventist Church told ABC's affiliate WTFS.

Turner, like Siegel's neighbors, is baffled by her actions.

"It's hard to get inside of her head, but when we did search we found she actually downloaded articles about Internet lottery scams, and highlighted areas, sections that said no lottery would make you pay to get your money. And yet that's what she's did," he said.

According to reports, Siegel was president of a local travel agency, Around The Earth Travel Inc., until July and she told neighbors she was living of Social Security and a meager savings.

ABC News' Brian Cohen contributed to this report

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