Despicable she


It’s terrible to think that someone could be so desperate, so underhanded, that she would prey on one of the most vulnerable among our society, taking advantage of a woman suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

But that’s precisely what happened in the case of Sally Ann Johnson, the 41-year-old Florida woman who was sentenced last week to 26 months in federal prison and ordered to repay $3.5 million she stole from an elderly Chilmark woman. She was also ordered to pay $725,912 to the Internal Revenue Service, taxes never paid on the money she received for her “psychic” services.

This case has grabbed a lot of headlines because of just how sick and twisted it is. Johnson, who went by the aliases of Angela Johnson and Angelia Johnson, claimed to be a psychic who could vanquish demons through exorcisms. All the while, she was emptying the Chilmark woman’s bank account.

We are always struck by the lengths people will go in an attempt to con people out of their money. Just this week, we had another news brief on another scam being perpetrated. The caller purports to be a representative of Eversource, and threatens to shut off electricity unless a bill is paid using prepaid credit cards.

An Eversource representative has said this is a national scam that targets vulnerable people. The company wants its customers to know that it never operates in such a manner, and people who are behind in their payments are given ample opportunities and payment options before a shut-off notice is issued. And they never order payments using prepaid cards.

One simple way to combat this type of scam is to ask the caller to provide information such as a customer number. If they can’t do it, hang up. Eversource offers other ways to combat scammers here.

We’re fortunate that local police are on top of these cons, and alert the public often when they are making the rounds.

Sadly, these scammers are elusive and difficult for police departments to track down and prosecute. So it’s important for the public to be vigilant and cynical when it comes to who is demanding payment.

Imagine if the people responsible for these scams put their energy into legitimate enterprises.

What made the case involving Johnson different is that she targeted someone who was physically vulnerable, a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which makes her crime even more reprehensible.

Johnson, who pleaded guilty in October to bilking the Chilmark woman out of millions, might have gotten away with her fraud had it not been for the dogged work of a local police officer.

Sean Slavin, a Chilmark patrolman at the time and now a sergeant, was the first to investigate. The Chilmark woman, who has never been identified by law enforcement, thought she had been robbed by a cleaning person, but the story didn’t add up. So Sgt. Slavin probed some more, and got the woman’s family involved.

It was through his investigation that he found the extent of the theft that was going on. After attempting to take the case to Edgartown District Court, he passed the results of his legwork to federal authorities, who took it from there.

It’s not often that a local police department gets a shout-out in a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office, but there was Chilmark listed among those who investigated Johnson’s crimes, alongside the FBI.

Sgt. Slavin and the Chilmark community should be proud of his fine police work, which led to the prosecution, guilty plea, and now sentencing of Johnson.