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Warrant: R.I. woman scams Waterford man out of nearly $95,000

By Julianne Hanckel

Publication: theday.com

Published 12/11/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 12/11/2012 11:44 PM

New London — Police say that in 186 days, a Rhode Island woman spent more than $500 a day on items including liquor, clothing, groceries, limousines, elective surgery and "possibly a $1,000 dog."

The money, totaling $94,989.33, allegedly came from a Waterford man who claims he was scammed into giving the woman money for a supposed business venture.

Melissa J. Cullen, 45, of 34 Briarbrooke Lane, Cranston, R.I., surrendered to Waterford police Tuesday morning and was later arraigned in the lower level courthouse on Broad Street.

She was charged with first- and second-degree larceny and is being held in lieu of a $200,000 bond.

Last June, Waterford resident Chester Lickwola, then 60, filed a criminal complaint against Cullen alleging that he had been scammed by Cullen out of $95,000 between December 2010 and January 2011.

Police said in the warrant that none of the expenditures were associated with the cost of starting a business and that the transactions were mainly point-of-sale transactions that included travel, video rentals, entertainment/shows and more.

Cash withdrawals were also made at Foxwoods Resort Casino and in Kissimmee, Fla.

According to police, Lickwola told them he met Cullen through Craigslist and that in April or May of 2010, before he met her, he was "perusing adult-oriented personal ads."

At the time, Cullen said she was married but told Lickwola that she was in an open relationship and her husband, Steven Cullen, not only knew about her extramarital affairs but approved of them.

In the summer of 2010, Cullen approached Lickwola about the possibility of becoming a partner in a new business venture but told him she needed $150,000 from a private financial backer because she was unable to obtain traditional financing.

Cullen was looking to move into a building located at 37-39 High St. in Westerly, and upon continuing discussions about money, asked Lickwola for a substantial deposit to open a bank account.

On Dec. 14, 2010, Lickwola withdrew $60,000 from his personal bank account and gave it to Cullen in the form of a cashier's check, which she then deposited in one of her Citizens Bank accounts, according to the warrant.

Shortly after that first transaction, Cullen began saying she needed more money for attorney's fees, an architect and building supplies and materials.

Lickwola again withdrew $35,000 and gave it to her for deposit.

Police contacted the owner of the building for sale, who said that he "vaguely" remembered talking to Cullen in the single conversation they had and that he never heard from her after that one phone call in December 2010.

According to the warrant, the relationship between the pair started to "dwindle," and Lickwola told police he became suspicious of Cullen's "intentions" with the money. He told police that he drove to her house in Westerly to find that she and her husband had moved to Cranston "without saying a word."

A search warrant was obtained for Cullen's bank accounts, and police discovered four Citizens Bank accounts — two older accounts and two opened the day Lickwola gave her the initial $60,000.

She split the $60,000 into two accounts, one for $40,000 and another for $20,000 into a savings account.

Police said that one of the two older bank accounts was used as a business account for Cullen's Jungle Gym Day Care — which the IRS had placed a lien on that was satisfied upon its sale in 2010.

Police said that although the account was allegedly a business account, withdrawals included nearly $4,000 for a vacation package, $1,616 in airline tickets, assorted travel expenses to the Virgin Islands and liquor. When the account was overdrawn by $957.93, the bank closed it and charged it as a loss, the warrant states.

On Oct. 18, Waterford police interviewed Cullen at her home in Cranston.

She told police she had met Lickwola online in early 2010 and began a relationship which she characterized as sex for money, the warrant states.

She claimed that she used the proceeds from the sale of her business to open the Citizens Bank accounts and that she used the money to hire a lawyer and an architect as well as purchase an online business plan. But she was not able to show police any contracts, correspondence or financial documents from the attorney, the architect or the online business plan.

Cullen's case was scheduled to continue Tuesday in New London Superior Court on Huntington Street, where major crimes are heard.

Attempts to reach Lickwola Tuesday were unsuccessful.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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