South Philadelphia man scammed out of his house and cars

Posted: March 30, 2013

World War II veteran Ray White thought he was being assisted by a friend.

Over the course of a year, White and Melvin Mcilwaine talked about cars and ate lunch together regularly. White, who has no known living relatives, trusted Mcilwaine with his life and property.

Mcilwaine betrayed that trust, police said, using the companionship as a tool to steal more than $380,000 worth of property from White.

"He took everything," White told The Inquirer.

The 88-year-old Army Air Corps combat vet lost his vintage automobiles, a Bentley and Cadillac. White also lost his South Philadelphia home in the scam, according to Lt. Anthony McFadden of the city's Special Victims Unit.

And along with the house, White lost everything in it.

Mcilwaine "completely cleaned it out," White said. "He arranged up a phony deal, and I have the detectives working on that."

Mcilwaine, 59, was recently arrested and charged with theft by deception and related offenses. He has a long history of theft arrests, and was being held after failing to post $600,000 bail, according to court papers.

"Hopefully, he can't raise the bail," White said. "These scam artists, they pick out their targets, and they go to work on them, and that's what we are trying to prevent."

Police gave this account:

Mcilwaine befriended White in January 2012, after walking past White's house on the 1200 block of South Juniper Street and seeing his cars. Mcilwaine, who lived on the 1200 block of South 13th Street, engaged White in conversation about the vehicles, and that initial encounter led to other get-togethers.

White treated Mcilwaine to lunch on many occasions, and the visits grew more frequent, to several a week. Between January 2012 and this month, Mcilwaine allegedly fostered a false impression to coerce White into selling his Juniper Street house and giving him the cars.

Mcilwaine convinced White that the Bentley and Cadillac were not secure on Juniper Street and needed to be moved to a safe parking garage. White transferred the car titles to Mcilwaine so he could safeguard the vehicles.

Mcilwaine then persuaded White to obtain a $20,000 bank loan against the house. He told White the loan was necessary to pay for the vehicles' secure relocation. Mcilwaine allegedly kept the $20,000.

Telling White the neighborhood was unsafe, Mcilwaine advised him to sell his house and said he would help White move to a safer neighborhood. Mcilwaine said he could sell the house for $265,000. He and White signed housing documents. White received an $18,000 check at a real estate office for the house, and Mcilwaine received a $17,000 check. Mcilwaine never helped White move, and White lost the Juniper Street property, becoming homeless.

On March 5, White told police he had been the victim of fraud and deceit. Two weeks later, officers raided Mcilwaine's house and seized numerous documents associated with White, $6,000 in cash, six handguns, and eight long guns, police said.

Police arrested Mcilwaine on charges that included theft and weapons offenses. He was arraigned March 18 and has a court hearing scheduled for April 2.

Mcilwaine's arrest history goes back to the 1970s on theft charges, some of which resulted in convictions. He pleaded guilty in 1993 to theft by receiving stolen property - an automobile - and was sentenced to a year of probation. He had been using the stolen 1991 Plymouth Sundance as an illegal taxicab, according to testimony.

In 1977, he was found guilty of two theft charges and making terroristic threats. He was sentenced to two years of probation, according to court records.

He also faces another active case of theft by deception. In that case, Mcilwaine is accused of pretending to be a landlord to unlawfully obtain $1,000 in 2008 from a man he had known for four years, according to court records.

That August, Mcilwaine was living in an apartment on the 1400 block of Green Lane and was going to be evicted for nonpayment of rent. Before that could happen, Mcilwaine allegedly pretended to own the property and asked an acquaintance, Roy Dixon, if he wanted to rent it. Dixon agreed, paid a $1,000 security deposit, and received a key to the property.

When Dixon went to move in in September 2008, he found the locks had been changed. The real owner had had Mcilwaine evicted and changed the locks, according to court records. Dixon went to police, and Mcilwaine was arrested on theft-by-deception charges. That case is pending.

In December 2001, Mcilwaine allegedly pointed a handgun at his brother, Kenneth, and set a pit bull on him, resulting in injuries, according to court papers. Kenneth Mcilwaine was seeking to collect back rent from his brother. Melvin Mcilwaine was arrested, but prosecutors later dropped the charges.

White called Mcilwaine a master con artist.

On Friday, one of White's neighbors said she often saw Mcilwaine and White together on the 1200 block of South Juniper Street but suspected nothing wrong. She said that White had lived there for years and that his Bentley and Cadillac were in mint condition.

Nonprofit organizations are seeking to help White get his life back together.

"We'll do our best to work with Ray and get him back on his feet," said Lincoln Strehle, a caseworker with the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service and Education Center. The center has been helping veterans since 1980. It is collecting donations to assist White, who is receiving medical care in Glenside. Donations can be made on the organization's website, www.pvmsec.org.

Strehle said his group was trying to find White a place to live after his medical care is complete.

Joe Eastman, a retired Navy officer and son of a WWII veteran, said he was working with political leaders and law enforcement to help White reclaim his home. "When people prey upon our veterans, they have to understand they are going to deal with every veteran in Philadelphia," he said.

The process for White to appeal and reclaim his property will take time, according to Eastman, who said he would host a fund-raiser for White from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Tazia restaurant, 101 N. 11th St. in Chinatown.

McFadden said Friday police had recovered White's cars.

White, who recently had a hip replacement, said he might stay at the Glenside care center a week or two longer to recuperate.

"I am doing the best I can," he said. "I'm trying to survive so I can get out of this situation."


Contact Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman at sabdur-rahman@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @sabdurr.

Inquirer staff writer Mike Newall contributed to this article.

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