Jefferson County, Missouri contractor admits to elderly exploitation scam

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A man from Jefferson County, Missouri on Wednesday admitted helping to defraud an elderly St. Louis woman out of more than $500,000.

Austin James, 27, of Hillsboro, St. Louis County, Missouri, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one felony count of identity theft. He admitted knowingly possessing or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person to commit bank fraud and the financial exploitation of the elderly.

James admitted aiding Gino Rives in exploiting the 80-year-old victim, who had hired Rives sometime before Jan. 17, 2021, to repair her roof for $7,500. Rives falsely claimed to be a licensed contractor and the victim hired him to renovate the interior of her home. Rives told the woman to write checks to himself, James and others that totaled more than $550,000 for renovations on the one-bedroom, one-bath, 1,100-square-foot home that was worth no more than $135,000 in 2021. James received eight checks totaling $94,606 between January 2021 and March 2023 for purportedly performing work on the victims, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, basement, and foundation. But he did not do the work for which he had been paid.

Due to the volume of checks being written on the victim’s account and being cashed by Rives, James, and others, her bank contacted the St. Louis City Building Inspector’s Office, which determined that any work done on the house was worth no more than $50,000 if it included and plumbing or electrical work. 

Rives, 36, of Edmundson, in St. Louis County, pleaded guilty last year and admitted defrauding two elderly victims. He and his mother, Zella Rives, pleaded guilty to separate charges this year and admitted falsely claiming that Rives was too disabled to work. They are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

James is scheduled to be sentenced on August 14. The charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both prison and a fine.

The Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Secret Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Berry is prosecuting the case.

Anyone with concerns about suspected abuse or neglect of the elderly or disabled should contact Missouri’s Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 800-392-0210.

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