Gypsy couple accused in 'sweetheart scam'



Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 24 at 12:43 PM

Video: Couple scams elderly men with romance

SEATTLE - A husband and wife who prosecutors say schemed elderly men out of high-priced gifts pleaded not guilty to charges of theft Thursday.

A total of nine charges were filed against Yana Ristick and Michael Evans, who have a child and are considered a married couple within the gypsy community.

Prosecutors say they financed their expensive taste by having Ristick befriend and even romance elderly men.

Court documents say in the past year, the pair targeted at least three men, all over age 85. One was in his 90s. Last month, they even drove an 86-year-old widow to Las Vegas where Ristick legally married him.

"When you're lonely and you're old and you've lost your wife of 52 years, your defenses are down," said Prosecutor Page Ulrey.

Prosecutors say Ristick would take the men to banks and high end stores to open lines of credit. At some places, it didn't work.

John Wilhelm, who sells Mercedes at Phil Smart, sensed something was wrong when Ristick walked into the dealership with a man 50 years her senior. She quickly picked the most expensive SUV in the store, and wanted to buy it without so much as a test drive.

"She said she lived with him and that he was putting her in the catering business," Wilhelm said. "So this didn't seem right."

Wilhelm also says she wouldn't allow the man to answer even simple questions and eventually the dealership told her they couldn't complete the sale that night.

Instead, she crossed the street to a BMW dealership, ultimately driving away in a new SUV which cost her elderly victim nearly $95,000.

Investigators also say Ristick convinced her 86-year-old husband to lease an apartment, where she moved into with Michael Evans and their 13-month-old baby.

Prosecutors say the couples' victims are devastated.

"So not only are you experiencing the loss, the financial loss. But you're also experiencing shame and humiliation, and it's embarrassing to admit that this person came in and took over life and you fell for it," Ulrey said.

Between cash transfers and withdrawals at banks, plus that BMW, prosecutors believe Ristick scammed her victims out of at least $200,000.

Prosecutors also say Evans was charged with an almost identical sweetheart crime with a different woman in 2003.

Their attorneys did not return calls for comment.