Orange County law enforcement agencies are searching for a parolee who poses as a county employee and might have bilked as many as 60 job applicants out of thousands of dollars, police and sheriff's officials said Tuesday.
Authorities identified the suspect as Richard Laurence Gomez, 33, and say he promised people county jobs if they first paid up to $500 in union fees.
Gomez, who uses several aliases, has been working his scams since October and has swindled victims in Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Brea and unincorporated parts of the county, officials said.
Gomez allegedly told some victims to report to the county public works yard in Anaheim for a job the day after they handed over money to him.
"They show up and they ask to talk to Gary or Mark," said county public works field operations manager Dale Dillon. "He says he'll meet them here and when he meets them, he'll have their union card ready, he'll have their uniform, and he'll take them in and introduce them to their boss so they can start work immediately.
"I have had to break the news to them that they've lost their money and that we have no openings," he said. "Some of them have even had to borrow the money that they gave him."
Dillon said about five people have come in each week since Christmas. In the first group were people Gomez met outside a San Diego labor union hall. He promised them work if they would relocate to Orange County and give him union dues up front, Dillon said.
One man said he paid Gomez $500. Others said the suspect persuaded them to hand over drivers' licenses and Social Security cards--and promised to return the documents when they reported for work, Dillon said.
"I'm just delighted to find out they now have a suspect," he said. "Hopefully, it won't take them long Gomez to catch him. Most of [the victims] have gotten quite angry, realizing how foolish they were to hand over their money on a promise."
Gomez has also told at least one victim he was a police officer and could buy cars out of a police impound lot, Sheriff's Lt. Tom Garner said. In that February incident, Gomez allegedly took $3,000 from a man and promised to get him an impounded Mercedes.
He had the man drive him to a tow yard, then came out and asked for a ride to UCI Medical Center in Orange, saying he needed to make a quick check on a patient for a police investigation, Garner said. Then he disappeared.
"They say he's fairly articulate and maybe has some college behind him," Garner said. "That's why they call them con men."
Gomez has not reported to his parole officer for about six months, Garner said. The parolee, who has served time for bad checks, auto theft and felony grand theft, should be considered armed and dangerous, he said.
Newport Beach police last week announced that two victims had come forward in that city, and asked the public for help in identifying the man, said Sgt. John Desmond. That's when more victims came forward and investigators from agencies realized they were all looking for the same suspect.
Two weeks ago, a 21-year-old Newport Beach man handed Gomez $242 for a job, and a 19-year-old Orange man reported in January that he gave Gomez $334 for union dues that would allow him to begin work as a county road worker, Desmond said.
Gomez is already wanted on a no-bail warrant for violating his parole, a $25,000 grand theft warrant out of the Sheriff's Department, a $50,000 warrant for trying to pass a bad check in Costa Mesa, and a $10,000 Brea warrant for petty theft with a prior bail, Garner said.
Desmond encouraged anyone who knows of Gomez's whereabouts to contact the closest law enforcement agency.
Anyone with information also can call Newport Beach police at (714) 644-3681; Sheriff's Investigator Bill Riddle at (714) 647-4100; the Sheriff's Fugitive Warrant Bureau at (714) 647-7075 or the Sheriff's watch commander after hours at (714) 834-6490.