After police said recently that at least 20 calls came in following notice of her arrest, more charges – and more serious charges – have been handed down on a woman officials said was caught scamming locals into donating money for fake fundraising efforts.
Ellen Burkheimer, a Port Jefferson Station resident, was arrested earlier in January on charges of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree, a felony, as well as misdemeanor charges of scheme to defraud in the second degree and criminal possession of a hypodermic instrument.
But Sgt. Michael Fitzharris of Suffolk County Police Department's Sixth Precinct said on Monday that after word got out – as well as her picture – that her donation solicitations were fradulent, people started to take notice.
"We probably got a total of 20 or more calls," Fitzharris said. "Mostly they were a lot of calls from the Port Jefferson Village and Port Jeff Station area. People remembered having personal contact with her either on the street or in local businesses, as far back as 2009."
Police arrested Burkheimer in Centereach on Saturday, Jan. 5 after they said they received a phone call from a woman, saying someone was collecting donations under the pretense that she was representing Head Start, which provides educational and health services for low-income families. Further investigation reportedly revealed that Burkheimer was using the donations to pay for her rent, drugs, and other expenses.
Many of the calls that came in after the incident reported similarities, police noted – though not all individuals wished to go on record and be subpoenaed in front of a court.
"She would walk in a particular area, such as a storefront area or business area – in a place of business that would have regular customer traffic as well as sidewalk traffic – and in the street and business, ask for donations toward a program. The incidents pretty much remained the same," Fitzharris said.
Fitzharris told Patch following the arrest that tax records used to dupe donors had been falsified, leading to felony charges, and since Burkheimer's original court appearance – where she was held on $3,000 cash bail – charges as well as bail have both been upped.
Instead of scheme to defraud in the second degree, Burkheimer is now charged with scheme to defraud in the first degree (10 or more persons), elevating the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony.
She is also charged with two counts of possession of a forged instrument in the second degree as opposed to one, two counts of forgery in the second degree that were previously not made, as well as an identity theft charge.
Burkheimer is due in court next Monday for conferences and remains held on $30,000 bond, $15,000 cash bail. A request for comment from the District Attorney's office was not returned.