Broken hearts, broken bank accounts: women fall victim to dating app scheme
The women say they met him on different dating sites.
“He told me his name was Jay Clarkson, and I met him on Bumble,” said one woman.
“This particular site I found John Clark was Facebook dating.” said another.
His real name is Jonathan Fitzgerald Clarke, 51, and he never used his jail mug shot on any online dating profiles.
Our investigation found Clarke hops from relationship to relationship, courting women, like Paula Ochsner of Omaha and Linda Holmgren of Red Oak, Iowa.
“Honestly, I did not have a clue, zero,” said Holmgren.
Their stories about dating Clarke are one and the same.
“He said he was coming from Omaha. He told me he moved back here from Colorado had worked for US Cellular for 20 some years,” she said.
“He said that he worked in the Verizon IT department and that he could get me a discount, an employee discount,” said Ochsner.
A spokesperson for Verizon said there’s no evidence Clarke ever worked there and US Cellular declined to answer the question. Prosecutors said Clarke used that pitch to win the trust of new girlfriends, who then let him into their lives and their bank accounts.
“The defendant, using a fake name, systematically executed a cold, calculated, basically process of grooming his victim over the course of multiple weeks with a motive of instilling a deep level interest of trust in his victim, and an overall goal of eventually taking her financial information for his own benefit,” said Montgomery County Attorney Drew Swanson.
Under the guise of his mobile phone company jobs, investigators said Jay Clarkson or John Clarke convinced the women to share phone plans and give him unlimited access to their accounts.
“He knew all the ins and outs of everything about cell phones, which, you know, believing that he worked for US Cellular and had for 20 years, I wasn’t surprised by that at all,” said Holmgren. “I know, now, that’s not true. ”
“It went on and on, he just, you know, kept saying,’I can do this for you. I can do that for you. I can pay your bill, I can get you these things,'” Ochsner said.
With mounting cell phone bills of new iPhones, Apple Watches, headphones and accessories, both women eventually caught on to his cell phone scheme and went to the authorities.
“I put two and two together. This guy is buying all the products on other women’s accounts, and selling them,” Ochsner said.
“It was kind of hard to untangle because on its face, it looked like a relationship,” Swanson said.
Swanson did some digging. He issued an arrest warrant and charged Clarke with felony second-degree theft. Clarke pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and a judge ordered him to pay back Holmgren.
“The most important thing to understand in this case is this is not a theft in the traditional sense, such as breaking into a vehicle or home, or someone getting a purse snatched off their shoulder,” he said.
Court documents show Clarke charged three different cell phones and an Apple watch to the Holmgren’s account and charged a ham radio and other items on the victim’s Discover credit card. Payments made by the defendant were declined because he used closed accounts.
“The amount of money that he’s supposed to pay me in restitution won’t even cover my $4,999 cell phone bill at US Cellular that’s now in collections,” said Holmgren.
Clarke’s conviction in Montgomery County didn’t stop him from finding a new girlfriend. He met Ochsner in Omaha.
“This is too good to be true, all these things that are happening. These are too good to be true. And he kept reassuring me, ‘This is just what I do for my girlfriend,'” Ochsner said.
Again, it appears Clarke was courting the woman’s cash and credit.
“He opened up five lines and racked up an $11,000 bill within a month,” she said.
More than a dozen women have filed fraud complaints with the Iowa attorney general and Oschsner has contacted Nebraska’s attorney general.
Clarke currently faces another felony theft charge in Polk County, Iowa, accused of duping an Ankeny woman, promising to pay for three cell phones but never did. The Polk County Attorney is also seeking the habitual offender enhancement, noting previous theft convictions.
A check of Clarke’s Iowa criminal record goes back to the 1990s. The women hope their expensive lessons of love will warn other women to watch out.
“He’s not going to take my kindness, or being a good person, or treating people right,” said Holmgren. “He’s taken enough for me. He’s not taking anything else.”
“I do not want another woman to have to go through what I did,” Ochsner said.
Clarke has a hearing in Polk County Court on Aug. 20.