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Conman Hitting Local Churches
Updated May 20, 2015 10:54 AM | Filed under: Crime
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(BLOOMINGTON) - Investigators say a man accused of church fraud may be turning out to be a non-denominational thief.

He took more than $200 from a Bloomington mosque.

During last Friday's prayers at Bloomington's Islamic Center, a man stood up and began asking for financial help. Generosity is important in the mosque, so a plea for help is not a surprise - it's how the plea was made. He didn't use the traditional 'salaam' greeting.

But Bloomington's mosque was not his first plea for money.

Last Sunday members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Carmel were his victims. A man who called himself Vince McCool, a graduate student at the University of Louisville addressed the congregation with his hard luck story.

Video of the service recorded the man as he told church members, "Everyone who has a mother, cherish your mother."

"He said he had his plane ticket and he was going over to the Middle East to identify his parents and grandmother's body. They had been killed trying to get out of Syria," explained Pastor Ferch, who says the man said he was of Lebanese and Syrian descent, but raised in the United States.

Video recorded showed the man telling everyone, "We don't realize the freedom we have to worship here in the United States. We can come in any church in America and worship God without fear."

In the video, the man went on to say, "I wiped myself out of $1,500 round-trip bereavement ticket on Delta Airlines to fly over there."

He also told them, "I was told by the ticketing agent when I got through customs in Paris and in Beirut, I have to pay to get my passport stamped and I'm short by $200."

That's when Pastor Ferch said the man asked for any financial help people could offer, holding up papers,saying he could show them a copy of his ticket and 15 references that would vouch for his story.

Church members didn't ask to see the proof and instead dug deep into their pockets, giving $750.

The next day, though, when a member did an Internet search on church scams artists and found a photo of Alan Fahra. There found reports that Fahra is a scam artist who got money from places of worship with tales of woes. He has targeted several churches in other states, including several years ago in Indiana.

On May 8, "Vince McCool" targeted the Celebrate Recovery group in Bloomington with the same story. However McCool never got the chance to stand up and tell his hard luck story to everyone gathered like church members, because that's not how their program works. McCool got agitated and before leaving allegedly stole $6 from the donation basket at the drug recovery meeting.

Police say cases like this one can be difficult to prosecute and urge people to be careful about to whom they are donating money.

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