The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office has charged a 55-year-old man for allegedly defrauding several people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars via investment schemes.
Ward Steven Caldwell, also known as Bruce Harmon or Bruce Goodrich, was arrested at Grace Presbyterian Church in Walnut Creek on Sunday and has been charged with three felony counts of grand theft by fraud and one felony count of elder financial abuse, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Caldwell, who is being held on $505,000 bail, also faces enhancements for losses exceeding $150,000 and a white collar enhancement for committing financial crimes against two or more people with total losses over $100,000, according to the DA's office.
Investigators aren't sure what community Caldwell was living in, but they believe it was in central Contra Costa County, according to supervising deputy DA Dodie Katague.
In September 2015, Caldwell allegedly befriended a widowed hairdresser by portraying himself as a successful investor, saying he had a business partner in Las Vegas named Junior who invested in strip clubs, casinos and TV commercials. Over a three-month period earlier this year, the woman gave him $139,500, prosecutors said.
A second woman met Caldwell at a car wash in Walnut Creek and he struck up a conversation about the car she was driving, according to prosecutors. He eventually convinced her to invest $30,000 in a deal where investors would buy a Bugatti Chiron, a car worth $2.6 million, and sell it for a large profit, prosecutors said.
The third victim, a 90-year-old woman from Lafayette, met Caldwell at Grace Presbyterian Church and thought he was an honest person because she read in the church's newsletter that he had donated $150,000 to the church, according to prosecutors.
However, authorities allege Caldwell had given the pastor two checks totaling $150,000 and told him to hold them until he received settlement money that would make the checks good.
The elderly woman allegedly gave Caldwell $171,200. DA's investigators and accountants found that the money from her and other victims was spent by Caldwell on personal expenses and none went to any investments, prosecutors said.
Investigators also found two additional victims in Contra Costa and Alameda counties and one in Butte County and think there may be other victims at the church or local assisted-living facilities, according to prosecutors.
Anyone with information about Caldwell or potential victims can call DA's inspector Al Cofer at (925) 957-2200.
Story by Bay City News Service. DanvilleSanRamon.com staff contributed to this story.