Okaloosa County, Fla. - Each year, thousands of women fall victim to romance scams. A local mother, who was scammed by a man she met on an internet site, wound-up heart broken, but refused to remain a victim.
News 13's Peyton LoCicero tells us, in her special report, how social media helped capture the Craigslist Casanova.
It started with an ad on Craigslist. Colleen Smith found what she was looking for, a great deal on a car but, she ended up with something more, something she didn't expect to find online.
"Oh gosh, I don't even know where to begin," said Colleen Smith, Scam Victim. "He said we were soul mates and meant to be. That uh, he saw marriage in our future."
The car seller, a handsome, well spoken, entrepreneur, named "Rick Mohe", continued to reach out to Colleen over the next month.
"Then, it was just texting back and forth but, first of all it wasn't very often at first. But then, it was daily, it was morning, noon and night. He was just always there."
After a months-long romantic courtship, Colleen fell in love with the man. He moved in with her, catering to her every need. Colleen says the relationship felt like a dream come true. Until, it turned into a nightmare.
"I had no idea who he was," explained Colleen.
Every time someone snapped a picture, Clark obscured his face with an Alabama hat, sunglasses or closed eyes.
Romantic and catering turned into controlling and moody.
"I kind of avoided those red flags. Because he was such a gentleman. The way he spoke, real southern hospitality."
Then, the other shoe dropped. Colleen's prince charming disappeared along with the car he sold Colleen and her sense of security.
"I thought how stupid could I be. How could he get over on me like that and uh, then I said, okay. I'm going to make this stop," shared Colleen.
Rather than hide in her embarrassment, she decided she had to do something.
"And that's just why I want this to stop. I just wanted it to stop. I knew it was a cycle and it was happening to others," said Colleen.
With the help of a friend, Colleen created a Facebook page, "help find Rick Mohe." Her friends, family and co-workers shared it, helping her uncover the truth.
"But, I just didn't know how to find him and you know, all of his numbers were disconnected. And then, when I thought he had an alias name, you know, the only way was to get him by his pictures."
Then, Colleen got a break, a phone call from a man in Texas.
"And he had said, uh I think my friend is dating the guy you have Facebook posts about," Colleen explained.
Mohe was going by a different name.
The woman became suspicious when she found a Viagra bottle for Rick Mohe in her car, looking up the name on Facebook and found Colleen's page.
Both women worked with law enforcement, and quickly learned the man they were both in love with, was an escaped convict on the run.
*"When they did finger print him when he was caught in Texas, that's when his real name came up. Apparently he was using an alias with me. He was using an alias with the girl in Texas," said Colleen.
His real name was Patrick Eugene Clark, a disbarred attorney, wanted by U.S. Marshals for felony charges in several states.
"He escaped prison from what we found out. In 2014, because he was in prison in Montgomery, Alabama for bank fraud and embezzlement."
After escaping federal prison in 2014, Clark bounced from state to state; hitting Florida, Alabama, Texas and possibly more.Authorities call him a career criminal whose record stretches back two decades.
"He had all of this time to perfect his craft, which was conning people. Basically, this was his life. His life style for over 20 years. So, that made me feel better. Just, understanding that he was a professional at charming people and really good at it," explained Colleen.
Officials credit Colleen's good old fashioned detective work on Facebook, with helping capture the alleged con artist and convicted criminal. Authorities say he will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
With Clark off the streets, Colleen is moving forward.
"What I want to do is, take this negative and turn it into a positive and help females out that are in the dating world right now," shared Colleen.
She plans to host seminars, alerting women to potential scammers and the red flags when doing business online and in person.
U.S. Marshals are holding Patrick Clark in the county jail in Montgomery, Alabama.
Authorities warn against sharing your personal information in online transactions, never meet strangers alone, and meet in public places like law enforcement parking lots.
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