Salem police are continuing their investigation into a Sherwood man they believed conned a relative out of as much as $60,000 after saying he needed the money for a lung transplant.
On Sept. 26, detectives arrested Nick Scholten, 27, in a Sherwood parking lot, charging him with first-degree theft and first-degree aggravated theft. He was taken into custody and lodged at the Marion County Jail, where his bail was set at $100,000. He has since bailed out with his next court appearance set for Nov. 4.
Salem police reported that between May 26 and Aug. 9, Scholten's 86-year-old great uncle, who is a Salem resident, gave giving Scholten $60,000 to cover medical expenses for the transplant operation.
'(Scholten) used the money to pay off various debts and personal expenses,' said Salem Police Detective Jacob Pratt, who along with Detective Mike Korcek, investigated the case.
In addition to such items as televisions and two used Cadillacs, which police said he was planning to resell to make a profit, Scholten told them he used some of the money to 'pay outstanding drug debts,' specifically to pay for marijuana.
Scholten's story was featured in the May issue of the Sherwood Gazette and the April 28 issue of The Times. During an interview at the time, Scholten said that his lungs had been damaged from inhaling muriatic acid while working for a pool and spa company, and his condition was exacerbated by exposure to toxic mold at his former apartment complex.
Double lung transplant
Scholten's alleged actions began to unravel last summer when a U.S. Bank official suspected some type of elder abuse after noticing large amounts of money being withdrawn from the relative's account.
Those included two checks for $5,000, two checks for $10,000, one check for $11,000 and one check for $19,000.
So police approached Scholten.
'When we spoke to Mr. Scholten in August, he stuck to his story,' said Pratt.
Police had their doubts and obtained several subpoenas to access medical records.
One of their first steps was to contact Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, where Scholten said he had the double lung transplant operation. Scholten had never been a patient there, hospital officials confirmed. Detectives then checked a national organ transplant registry and couldn't locate his name, Pratt said.
After Scholten gave detectives the name of his local doctor, the doctor confirmed that Scholten was never in need of a lung transplant. A final call was placed to officials at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital who confirmed that if the Sherwood man had received a double lung transplant, he wouldn't be in any condition to fly back home in a week as he told his family he had.
'We had a pretty good idea it wasn't true,' Pratt said after investigating Scholten's story.
Pratt said when Scholten was supposedly in New York for the operation - which he told relatives included some heart surgery as well - he actually stayed at area motels.
Pratt said Scholten also claimed to need surgery to replace a right bronchial tube in August and that surgery had never taken place either. In that situation, police say Scholten simply told his mother he needed the surgery (again allegedly at the same New York hospital) but never left Sherwood. He simply 'avoided her' for several days, said Pratt.
In addition to taking money from his great uncle, Scholten is believed to have collected between $2,000 to $2,500 from a US Bank account set up in his name to defray medical expenses and between $3,000 and $5,000 from donations made directly to him, said Pratt.
Devastated and numb
Neither Scholten's mother, Roxanne Scholten, nor Scholten's wife are believed to be involved in the deception, according to Pratt.
'We had his mom come down for a polygraph and she did pass that,' he said. 'We have no concerns about his mother and wife being involved.'
Roxanne Scholten confirmed that she had no idea what her son was up to and neither did her daughter-in-law.
'I'm devastated. I'm just devastated,' she said. 'I'm still numb about the whole thing.'
Roxanne Scholten had held Tupperware parties to raise funds for her son's medical expenses.
Alice Thornton, a friend of Roxanne Scholten, said she and other people in the community really believed that Nick was very sick.
'He had all of us snowed,' she said. 'He certainly told a good yarn, and everyone believed it.'
Amberle Johnson, who graduated with Scholten in 2002, said she was shocked to hear that Scholten was sick, especially since she knew he had a young daughter he was struggling to support.
'Even though I hadn't spoken to Nick since we graduated and I moved away to Eugene to go to college, I definitely was touched and wanted to help his family,' she responded via email. 'I'm not rich myself so I didn't have a lot to give, but we bought Tupperware at Roxanne's fundraisers and I encouraged friends in Eugene to order through her.'
Since she's enrolling in law school, Johnson said she was interested in the legal aspects of Scholten's plight after he said he was sickened by his working conditions. She contacted Scholten via Facebook offering to have some of her lawyer friends try to help him out but never heard back from him.
'But I just didn't understand why he'd have to pay for all the bills on his own, when according to the Sherwood Gazette the illness was completely caused by unsafe living and working conditions,' said Johnson. 'I was definitely shocked to hear it was all fake, my first thought was 'why go public with it if you're doing it just for money?''
Pratt said individuals who donated to Scholten can contact their local police to file a report in hopes of recouping their money.
At least one Sherwood resident who knows Scholten and donated $100 to defray his medical expenses, filed a complaint with the Sherwood Police Department after seeing a story about the scam on the Portland Tribune website. That complaint was forwarded to Salem police for inclusion in their case, according to Capt. Jim Reed, a Sherwood Police Department spokesman.
Meanwhile, Pratt said it would have been very difficult for the average resident to determine that Scholten was not being truthful.
'They couldn't have done anything differently because (he was) believable,' said the detective.