Homeless/gypsies as "scam artists" wintering in Florida FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 29 Dec 1997 23:51:25 -0800 (PST)

How many hate-the-homeless media images can *you find below?
=46WD from <http://www.herald.com/florida/digdocs/021182.htm>

"Tourists, scam artists head South:
Homeless snowbirds come in search of new start or new victims"

By MIKE SCHNEIDER, AP (Miami Herald 12-28-97)

ORLANDO -- It's a rite of winter in the Sunshine State.

Each season, snowbirds pack up their Winnebagos and drive South to Florida
or fly down to their winter condominiums where they will spend the next
four months enjoying blue skies and balmy weather.

And with them come Florida's other winter visitors: homeless people who
want to escape harsher northern climes and gypsy thieves who specialize in
home improvement scams and burglaries.

They're like Brian Maltais, a 56-year-old homeless man from Albany, N.Y.,
who is spending the winter in Orlando. Or they're like the Dolinska
sisters, Tamara and Barbara, who authorities say have burglarized wealthy,
older Floridians of silver and jewelry and eluded authorities for years.

Although it's impossible to keep track of the numbers of homeless people
who arrive in Florida with the first snowfall up North, homeless shelters
said they see noticeable increases each season.

Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa sees about a 20 percent increase in the
number of people staying at its 150-bed shelter in the winter, said
spokeswoman Michelle Fox. A hundred more homeless people usually spend the
night in a park in front of Metropolitan Ministries during the winter; only
half that number sleep there in July.

``They come here with the hope of finding work and starting over,'' Fox
said. ``It's a good time for us to address their problems. . . such as
addiction. We let them know that just by moving, the problem doesn't go

About a quarter of Florida's estimated 55,000 homeless people come from
outside the state, said Michelle Lagos, spokeswoman for the Florida
Department of Children and Families. In the winter, a percentage of those
are migrant workers who come to pick winter crops.

``We're in the Sunbelt. It's a more attractive place to live on the street
than New York,'' Lagos said.

Maltais got an earlier start than most of the homeless snowbirds, arriving
in Florida from New York in late September. He worked in Boston for a while
and saved enough money to buy a one-way Greyhound ticket to Florida.

``I only had $160, and the weather started to get cold,'' Maltais said.
``The dampness bothers me.''

He plans to return to Albany, where his 22-year-old son and 13-year-old
daughter live, in March or April -- before it gets too hot in Florida. In
the meantime, he's spending nights at a homeless shelter. He tried getting
a job in construction but was turned down because he didn't have a pair of
work boots. He now hopes to earn some money picking citrus.

The influx of homeless people in the winter isn't always welcome --
especially by other homeless people.  The snowbirds take up beds in
shelters usually used by locals and crowd labor pools that meet at dawn
each morning for construction jobs.

``They crowd up everything when they come down here,'' said David Smith, a
35-year-old homeless man in Orlando. ``I wish they would stay up there.''

Law enforcement officers wish another group would stay up North, too. Like
the homeless, gypsy thieves usually arrive once the mercury plunges up

``It's kind of cold up North to be doing burglaries,'' said Palm Beach
Police Detective Dan Szarszewski.

Mostly illegal immigrants from Eastern Europe, the thieves usually have
extensive criminal backgrounds from across the nation. Masters of forging
fake documents, they usually have several aliases, making it difficult for
law enforcement to keep track of them.

``They have many names. You'll never be able to establish who they are,''
said Lt. John Thorpe of the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. ``The problem
is they bond out and get away from us and we never hear from them again.''

There are two types of gypsy thieves who come to Florida this time of year.
The first group, usually men, pose as contractors or utility workers and
persuade residents to let them work on their homes. They go door-to-door
soliciting business -- something most legitimate contractors don't do.

The workers then either steal valuables during the course of their job,
perform substandard work or intimidate their clients into paying more money
than they were originally quoted.

``They like to pick on the elderly because they don't think they're as fast
on their feet. They're easily intimidated, and they're more isolated and
trusting,'' Thorpe said.

The second group of gypsy thieves usually work in a team of two women and a
man. The man will drive the women to an upscale neighborhood, where the
women will go door-to-door pretending to look for a lost dog or a home they
are supposed to clean.

While one woman distracts the homeowner with her story, the other woman
will sneak in a side door in search of valuable jewelry she can stuff in an
apron under her clothes.

Typical of these thieves are the Dolinska sisters and their driver, Jan
Joblonski. In Florida, members of the trio are wanted in Fort Lauderdale
and Indian River, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota and Seminole counties.
They also have outstanding warrants in Baton Rouge, La.; Nashville;
Rockville, Md.; and St. Louis.

Police say the 34-year-old Tamara and the 38-year-old Barbara target
affluent suburbs with large numbers of elderly people. The sisters take
only the best quality silver, jewelry and the occasional fur coat or
oriental rug.

And with the cold weather up North, authorities said, it's only a matter of
time before they return to Florida this winter, if they haven't already.

``The Dolinska sisters have been in Florida for years,'' Thorpe said.
``They're infamous. Nobody can find them.''

Copyright =A9 1997 The Miami Herald