Expat Real Estate Salesman Steals $44,000 and Flees Panama
Saturday, July 18 2009 @ 08:59 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
I Knew This Guy: I know RJ Erwin personally. I met him at a poker tournament last year and he introduced himself as being a real estate salesman for the Vista Mar development. Eventually over the course of the next few months RJ reactivated Vista Mar's advertising on my website. He also invited me and my family to spend time at the Vista Mar beach and clubhouse facilities. In short I thought he was a friend, and that turned out to not be the case.
Using My Name: RJ Erwin and his wife used my name to try to convince people to make an investment in a bogus corporation. According to RJ's scam pitch, the money was supposed to be going to purchase heavy equipment, such as dump trucks or earth moving equipment, which would be put to work doing various construction projects in Panama. He used my name in his scam, saying I was behind the idea and I would be managing the company. Of course, I had no idea he was doing any of this.
He Got The Idea From Me: RJ probably got the idea for his scam and fraudulent pitch directly from me. Back at the end of 2008, specifically in November 2008, I was, in fact, playing around with the idea of trying to raise capital in order to purchase heavy equipment. I have another friend who is in that industry and he had recently secured several new contracts. He indicated he had more work than equipment, and if I could come up with some heavy equipment, specifically dump trucks, then he could put them to work and we would split the profits. It was an attractive offer from a business perspective - the problem was that I didn't have the capital to buy the trucks. So, I started looking for ways to finance this concept and at one point I mentioned it to RJ. He sent me several emails in November 2008 saying he would be talking to a guy named "Brian" (don't know who that is) but it never developed into anything. I was never able to raise the capital and over the next several months I basically dropped the whole idea and I never heard anything about it again from RJ.
Most Recent Contact With RJ Erwin: The last time I had any contact with RJ Erwin regarding the possibility of raising working capital for the purchase of heavy equipment was on 13 November 2008, shortly after I mentioned it to him, when he sent me this email;
- Don, I tried your phone but got voicemail. Anyway, I am waiting to hear back from Brian, he was interested if you had collateral in the form of real estate but he is not into machinery. I spelled it out for him and he is considering it. Still no answer from Tina either. I also have a couple other avenues but they are ony for 10 or 20 week terms. Street loans if you know what I mean. I will email you as soon as I have an answer either way.
I Never Got Back To Him: I did not reply to this email and RJ never wrote back on this subject. After that, he wrote to me on 5 April 2009 when me made a comment on the article “Disney” written by Jerin Tate that I published on 1 April 2009 as an April Fool’s Day joke. In short, RJ thought it was real and he forwarded it out to everyone he knew – it wasn’t until 5 April that he figured out it was a joke and he wrote to say “you got me.” After that email, he next wrote on 13 May 2009 to let me know he was going to be playing in a poker tournament in Panama City. So, RJ Erwin and his wife apparently went of on their own, adopting and adapting the concept of raising capital to fund the purchase of heavy equipment in order to fraudulently scam potential victims out of thousands of dollars.
I Had No Idea: Unbeknownst to me, over the course of the past several months RJ and his wife approached various members of the English speaking expat community, especially around the area of Coronado and Vista Mar (where he worked) to try to get them to "invest" in his scheme. As far as I know right now the only person he was able to convince was Chuck, who has lost about $32,000 dollars. Chuck has the cancelled checks, signed contracts, email, and lots of other evidence that will all be used to eventually secure a conviction against RJ Erwin and his wife for fraud. Shortly after RJ received the money from Chuck, he cleared out his desk, he and his wife packed their belongings, RJ stole his personnel record from the offices of Vista Mar, and they fled the country. God knows where they are now. According to Chuck, the rumor now is that they are in Ecuador. Funny how the scammers and fraud artists run to Ecuador once they have used up their charm in Panama. I now have been contacted by another victim who lost an additional $12,000 dollars.
Failing Real Estate Salesmen: Both RJ and his wife worked in the real estate industry here in Panama. They were apparently not making any money in the real estate industry so they turned to crime in order to finance their departure from Panama in order to establish themselves in greener pastures. I call this the “burning bridges” exit strategy. It works good enough in the short haul, but not so much for the long haul, especially when you’ve managed to severely piss off someone with my particular skill set.
Meet Melvis: This week I will be meeting with Chuck and my meat-eating criminal attorney to help Chuck prepare his formal criminal and civil complaints against RJ, his wife, and the Panamanian corporation they involved for payment of the funds from Chuck, as well as anyone else who might be involved in this scam. This was a straight-up fraud to scam the victim out of a lot of money, with his intent to steal the money and flee the country. It will take some time to conduct an investigation, establish the facts with a prosecutor, and fully investigate the individuals involved, but sooner or later they will be held accountable for their actions.
Really Dumb Mistake: And as usual, RJ’s biggest mistake was dragging my name into this. I didn’t lose a dime, he didn’t get any money from me, but he took from me part of what I consider to be my most valuable asset – my good name. Chuck contacted me yesterday because the first “payment” under RJ’s bogus scam was supposed to have been made on 8 July 2009. Until then Chuck thought it was a legitimate deal. Of course when we finally talked on the phone and my response was “what the hell are you talking about” his concerns and fears were validated – RJ had ripped him off and he had used my name to do it. And this is the part of the story where I turn into the most relentless bloodhound on the planet. I sent an email to RJ letting him know that I won’t rest until he is either in prison or dead (whichever comes first.) As others have learned recently, dragging me into this kind bullshit works out to be a major mistake, 100% of the time. Chuck might be mad over the loss of his $32,000 bucks. I’m furious over RJ’s traitorous abuse of our relationship. In short, he’s toast… It will take awhile but I’ve got time. RJ Erwin made one very big mistake. Huge.
Addicted To Gambling: There’s another angle to RJ Erwin’s criminal activities in Panama. I also spoke to some people who are in the gambling industry, the managers of one of the Sports books in one of the casinos. RJ Erwin is also running away from a very large and significant gambling debt which he has left behind here in Panama as well. I spoke to one guy who called me awhile ago trying to locate RJ Erwin, and he told me RJ Erwin owes money to on series of gambling debts, and that he’s into them for more than $10,000 dollars.
Were You Approached? In the meantime, if anyone else was approached by RJ Erwin, formerly of Vista Mar, or his wife, regarding this supposed business deal to invest money to buy heavy construction equipment (and, supposedly involving me or the use of my name to add legitimacy) please contact either me or Chuck directly. Even if you simply listened to RJ's pitch and decided not to invest, please step forward as a potential witness to help support Chuck's legal efforts to secure the return of his money. And if RJ Erwin mentioned my name to you with regards to any kind of business dea then I would like to know about it. Please.
Details As They Develop: And of course, I'll be reporting the details as well on www.panama-guide.com as they develop and become available. Unfortunately this is another event of one single member of our community who decided to turn against a person who trusted him, and to take advantage of that trust in order to steal money. As more and more foreigners move to Panama we must continue to work together to identify these people for what they are. RJ is on the run right now and he will probably be able to evade justice for some time, maybe a year or two. Then sooner or later he will be arrested (wherever he is) and taken to trial.
Promise of Confidentiality: Of course I will protect your privacy and will not use your name publicly in any of this unless you give me your expressed permission. There are really two sides to this whole situation – one being the criminal and civil complaints that will be filed against Joseph Erwin Cover "RJ Erwin" and his wife, and the other will be the articles I will be publishing about this scam as it evolves. I would like to you come forward if you have any knowledge about RJ Erwin’s activities, and promise not to use any information provided in published articles unless I have your permission. What matters most is getting this scam artist behind bars. Thanks in advance for your support and cooperation.
Copyright 2009 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.