For nearly three decades, brothers Rick and Gary Franklin have been accused of tricking people out of thousands of dollars through elaborate scams.
In the 1990s, Gary was convicted on several theft and fraud charges after swindling old women out of thousands of dollars through landscaping and home improvement scams.
And, back in 2004, his older brother Rick pleaded guilty to 42 counts related to running a large stolen property ring from South Bend to Meade County, Kentucky.
They both served time for the crimes, but are now living free in St. Joseph County, despite being accused by several residents of running the same schemes that got them in trouble in the first place.
“This guy and his brother have been in and out of jail since 1995,” said Jason Siveny, who says he bought a trailer from the brothers on eBay that ended up being stolen. “I do know the trailer I bought was stolen in Michigan. So, I’m just wondering how the heck these guys are still on the street.”
It’s a question that baffles many of the Franklins’ alleged victims.
But, when NewsCenter 16 confronted Rick about the recent accusations, he maintained he’d done nothing criminal.
“If I was doing something illegal or against the law, I would think the police would be here,” he said.
In some cases, Rick may be right.
Police say part of the reason career conmen sometimes get away with ripping people off is because they’re good at working around the law.
“A lot of these people who prey on victims in these sorts of cases know exactly how far they can go before they’re over into the criminal side and they just hold short of that and they stay on the non-performance of a contract side and put the responsibility back on our victim to do all the legal work themselves,” said Capt. Phil Trent with the South Bend Police Department.
That’s the case with Harold Wise, who claims the Franklin brothers took his truck as a down payment on a Prairie Avenue property, but never held up their end of the bargain.
Now, he’s out $2,500 and police say his only course of action is a civil suit.
“I’m an old Marine. I’ll overcome and adapt,” Harold said. “But, there’s a lot of people that can’t that they’ve shafted.”
That’s why Trent says it’s important to do a good amount of research before entering into a contract or making a big purchase.
“If you want to buy a vehicle or you want to buy a cell phone, or you want to buy a piece of construction equipment, it’s best to go through a registered business,” he said. “And, then your due diligence at that point can be Better Business Bureau and a simple Google search.”
It’s a simple Google search many of Rick and Gary’s alleged victims say they wish they did.
“I just put in my search engine in my computer ‘Gary Franklin South Bend, Indiana’ and, my gosh, I wish I would have done that rather than the VIN number because the first thing I saw was some elderly lady there was taken for half a million dollars,” Siveny said.
But now he and other alleged victims are hopeful others will learn from their mistakes.
“My advice is run,” said Corey Wise, who formerly lived in property the Franklins claimed to own. “Do not deal with these people. They will tell you everything they need to tell you to get the job. They’re bad.”