FBI: Colo. Couple duped NY family by claiming ties to Dick Cheney
SEATTLE – A Colorado couple will be returned to Buffalo, N.Y., to face federal charges that they duped their relatives out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by claiming, among other things, that the husband had worked for Vice President Dick Cheney and former New York Gov. George Pataki.William and Lisa Harris, formerly of Golden, Colo., told Lisa’s aunts, uncles and another man that William’s connection to Cheney provided him the opportunity to invest in a spinoff of Halliburton Co., Cheney’s former employer, according to an affidavit for probable cause filed in the case. There was no such spinoff, and William Harris is accused of using the money to support his gambling habit.The FBI tracked them to a motel in Mount Vernon, north of Seattle, and tailed them when they separately left the building Monday, headed for Interstate 5, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Lang said Wednesday. William Harris, driving a motor home, pulled over for the agents and Mount Vernon police, but his wife kept driving and had to be forced off the road, Lang said.They were both arrested – just days before they were to be featured on “America’s Most Wanted,” Lang said. They made initial appearances at U.S. District Court in Seattle on Tuesday and will be returned to Buffalo in the next few weeks, Lang said. A magistrate judge ordered them detained pending trial, and a lawyer who represented the husband at the hearing said he could not comment on the charges.”That dirtbag, he’s about as low as can be, and she’s lower than him, because it’s her family,” Lisa Harris’ uncle, Chautauqua County real estate agent Richard Benedetto, said Wednesday.Benedetto said Harris would sometimes pretend to take phone calls from Pataki, and while the family normally would not have trusted someone like him, his niece vouched for him: “He walked the lie very straight, and she verified it.”Authorities in Colorado and the Southern District of New York have also issued warrants for their arrest, charging fraud and larceny in similar schemes, and say they have a long history of duping would-be investors and people they met at churches around the country. The FBI is still investigating their actions.They ran five separate but related schemes from late 2004 to mid-2006 targeting the Benedetto-McMahon family in Jamestown, N.Y., FBI Special Agent Peter Langrish wrote in a probable cause affidavit filed June 13. In one, William Harris allegedly told Richard Benedetto that he could have his son and two nephews who were in the military moved from high-risk to safer assignments, but it would take $60,000 in bribes to U.S. senators. Benedetto paid $20,000, and Harris promised to cover the rest.Benedetto remained at their New York City hotel while Harris was supposedly meeting the senators, but there is no reason to believe the meeting was real, Langrish wrote.Asked about that aspect of the case, Benedetto said he was worried sick about his son’s safety: “It’s embarrassing. I thought … if this guy’s telling me the truth and I didn’t do it, and something happened, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”Benedetto estimated that the family gave the Harrises more than $350,000, including equity in a Colorado house signed over by his brother, Lisa’s father. William Harris claimed variously to have impressed Cheney while serving in the Army’s Delta Force or as a Navy Seal, and to have gone on to handle financial matters for Cheney before later doing security for Pataki, charging papers said.William and Lisa Harris are each charged with one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.
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