Woman gets probation in church scam

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DuncanPORT CHARLOTTE — A North Port woman accused of scamming church members by falsely claiming her sons were killed fighting overseas has been sentenced to three years’ probation.

Shirley Ann Duncan, 50, of the 2200 block of Ryecroft Street, North Port, pleaded no contest to attempted criminal use of personal identification during a pre-trial hearing May 14 at the Charlotte County Justice Center, according to Samantha Syoen, spokeswoman for the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.

Prose-cutors dropped a charge of obtaining less than $20,000 of property by fraud.

Circuit Judge Amy Hawthorne adjudicated Duncan guilty. In addition to serving probation, Duncan must pay restitution to and have no contact with her victims, pay court costs and undergo a mental health examination, authorities said. The value of the cash and gifts she received was more than $1,000, but the amount of restitution will be determined later, Syoen said.

Duncan could not be reached for comment Monday.

In September, Duncan began telling members of Community Life Center on Edgewater Drive in Port Charlotte that she had lost three sons to wars in the Middle East, and a fourth was wounded and not expected to survive, according to a Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office report. A few weeks later she reportedly claimed the fourth son had died.

To authenticate her story, Duncan altered an old document sent by an adjutant general in the Secretary of War’s office to notify a mother of a son lost during World War II. Duncan made the letter look like it was addressed to her, authorities said. However, CCSO detectives later discovered the man who had signed the document, Gen. J.A. Ulio, had been dead for more than 50 years.

A group at the church organized a memorial service for all four sons. Duncan collected numerous donations of cash, housewares, clothing and furniture worth more than $1,000 from church members, according to the report.

But at least one church member was suspicious and contacted Duncan’s son, who was alive and well and serving in the Army at Fort Knox, Ky. The son contacted local authorities about his mother’s claims, informing them that he only has one brother, who had never served in the military.

Duncan was arrested and charged Jan. 24.

Mark Coffey, pastor at Community Life Center, said that even after Duncan was charged, members of the church gave her the option of returning to the congregation.

‘Our intent was never to close our doors on her,’ Coffey said Monday. ‘We just pray that she has learned from her mistakes and that she can move on with her life.’

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