By Patrick Winderl
The owner of a defunct Havre business faces sentencing in Bozeman next month for defrauding an elderly disabled woman out of thousands of dollars.
Travis Amariah Griffith, 26, pleaded no contest to deceptive practices by common scheme, a felony. Prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor charge of elder abuse in exchange for the no-contest plea. Griffith, who owned Griffith Technology Co. of Havre, will be sentenced March 24.
Griffith has been the subject of multiple complaints about a series of auctions he hosted on Ebay, and Havre police are investigating those complaints, Assistant Police Chief Mike Barthel said.
According to a criminal complaint filed in District Court in Bozeman, an elderly woman with suspected mental disabilities paid Griffith $7,800 in the fall of 2000 for "debugging" her apartment.
The woman paid Griffith for services that included removing what he said were listening devices from her apartment and installing a low-end door lock, the criminal complaint said.
The complaint said the woman told police she believed there were listening devices hidden in her apartment and in her body. A friend of the woman told police she "suffers from paranoid schizophrenia," the charging document said.
Bozeman police conducted an investigation after the woman's friend reported he was concerned that Griffith was taking advantage of the woman, the complaint said.
The complaint doesn't explain how the woman hired Griffith. He visited her apartment several times and told her he discovered several "bugs," the complaint said. The woman told officers Griffith found the devices in her telephone and alarm, and she showed them to officers, according to the document. She also showed police a "decoy bug" Griffith had installed in her apartment and charged her $350 for, the complaint said.
The police "determined that the bugs (including the decoy bug) were a combination of capacitors and/or resistors, all available at a cost of less than $1.00," the document said.
Griffith told the woman he put a "spray screen" around her apartment to "keep the people away," the complaint said. On one occasion, the woman paid $700 for Griffith and an associate to perform debugging procedures, the document said. The woman told police she never saw Griffith's partner, according to the complaint.
Griffith also charged the woman to install a lock on the front door of her apartment, the complaint said.
"The lock was poorly installed and appeared to be a low-end model," it said. "The lock was installed in such a manner that (officers were) able to open the door with ease using only a credit card."
The woman told police Griffith said he had military experience, and even wore military clothing on one visit to her apartment, the document said. Griffith told the woman he had "received training on how to eliminate the people" who were bugging her apartment, the document said.
Griffith never gave the woman a receipt for his services, but did provide a handwritten note outlining what work he performed, the complaint said. In one entry on the note Griffith said the woman "believes I am some type of savior."
"I told her I could no longer assist her professionally but would continue to monitor her emotionally," another entry said.
Griffith told a Bozeman police detective on Oct. 23, 2000, that the woman paid him to remove bugs from her house, the criminal complaint said.
"If (the woman) wants to pay for that, that's her problem," Griffith told the detective, the document said.
Griffith "admitted to receiving more than $2,000" from the woman, though "her bank records indicate that she paid Griffith approximately $7,800 for his 'services,'" the charging document said.
Officers determined the woman paid Griffith $1,650 from her checking account, $1,000 in traveler's checks and an unknown amount of cash, the affidavit said. According to the complaint, the woman wrote six checks in a two-week period in September and October of 2000, five of which were to Griffith, ranging from $150 to $500.
The police discovered that three of the electrical items Griffith sold the woman cost between $12.99 and $24.99, and some of the items cost less than a dollar, the complaint said.
"None of the items had the capacity to detect or destroy 'bugs' in a home, electrical system, or person," the document said.
The Gallatin County Attorney's Office charged Griffith March 7, 2001, with felony deceptive practices by common scheme and misdemeanor elder abuse.
Griffith pleaded no contest to the felony charge on Jan. 29. A no-contest plea means he didn't admit guilty but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence to convict.
Griffith declined to comment Thursday about his relationship with the woman. He said he had more pressing issues to consider because he "was just diagnosed with a brain disease."
Multiple people from across the country have filed complaints about Griffith with the Havre Police Department, Barthel said. The complainants claim they purchased iPaq handheld computers at Ebay auctions hosted by Griffith, but were sent partial shipments or no products at all.
Griffith said in a previous interview that he sold between 45 and 60 iPaqs at auction. Ebay records show at least 61 iPaqs were purchased between Nov. 28 and Dec. 11 during auctions hosted by Griffith. The computers sold for between $660 and $800 a piece.
Police said in January that the complaints may warrant civil action, but they did not believe criminal charges against Griffith would be pursued.
"That situation has significantly changed," Barthel said Thursday. He said he could not discuss an ongoing investigation.