After 20 years on the run, alleged Quincy con man caught in Florida
Scott Wolas’s 20 years on the lam are finally over.
The former Quincy real estate broker who allegedly defrauded friends and co-workers of $1.5 million while a fugitive from law enforcement authorities on earlier charges was arrested Friday morning in Delray Beach, Fla., by the FBI and the Quincy police, according to the US attorney’s office in Boston.
Wolas, 67, was known in Massachusetts as Eugene J. Grathwohl. He worked at a Century 21 office in Quincy, where he allegedly charmed at least 19 investors into backing a real estate project at the old Beachcomber bar on Quincy Shore Drive. He did so while hiding his criminal past, concocting a story of a wife and children lost in a plane crash, and using a series of aliases to hide his true identity, according to authorities and interviews with his alleged victims.
In September, instead of closing the long-delayed Beachcomber deal, Wolas left town. He got a ride to the JFK/UMass train station from his girlfriend, purportedly to take a business trip to raise more money for the project. He took only a duffel bag and laptop computer, according to a complaint filed in US District Court in Boston and made public Friday.
And for the third time in two decades, he seemed to vanish into thin air.
Seven months and two new aliases later, Wolas was finally tracked down by authorities in Florida, after he had allegedly confessed his location and identity to a woman he met on an online dating site. On Friday, he was charged with criminal wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with the proposed Beachcomber development.
Wolas appeared Friday morning in federal court in West Palm Beach and remained in custody there. He has not yet entered a plea, and his federal defender in Florida could not be reached for comment Friday.
The FBI said in an affidavit that all of the money from investors in Wolas’s ventures is gone. Although he did use $350,000 to start construction on a nearby house project in Quincy, he allegedly spent an additional $98,000 on stamps, books, and collectibles, using PayPal, and spent another $50,000 dining at restaurants.
He also used $450,000 to pay penalties to the owner of the Beachcomber property for delaying the real estate transaction, according to the complaint. He wrote checks for more than $300,000 to a person who moved investors’ money out of the country, and withdrew another $600,000 for unknown reasons.
Benjamin Porter, one of Wolas’s former friends in Quincy who lost money in the scheme, is happy he has been arrested.
“He was such a bad person and has hurt so many people,’’ Porter said in an e-mail Friday. “I never thought they would find him, considering his past.”
For years, Wolas was the guy who got away. He had a knack with people, Porter and others said, a raconteur with brains and a taste for fine wine. He wowed investors with his seeming empathy, his false boasts of having a European trust fund, and his knowledge on an array of subjects.
He slipped away from authorities for the first time in 1997, while working as a corporate lawyer in the Manhattan office of Hunton & Williams. He fled after he was indicted on 119 counts of fraud and grand larceny in New York for allegedly stealing tens of millions of dollars from investors in a fraudulent liquor exporting scheme.
From there, he went to Florida, taking the name of his former college roommate at Georgetown University, Allen Hengst, according to the FBI complaint. He got a license to sell investments and did so until 2001, when the Tampa FBI was on his trail after determining he was using an alias. But by the time the arrest warrant was issued, he had fled to Massachusetts, the complaint said.
Wolas lived in the Quincy area from 2009 through 2016 as Eugene Grathwohl. He ran a business called Increasing Fortune Inc. and worked as a real estate agent for Century 21 in Quincy, as did his girlfriend.
From 2014 through 2016, prosecutors alleged, Wolas solicited investments for the Beachcomber, once a well-known live-music venue on Wollaston Beach, and an adjacent lot. He promised investors returns ranging from 7 to 30 percent. In all, he pledged to pay out more than 125 percent of the profits he expected to gain in a sale of the property, according to the complaint.
One investor, now a resident of Utah, withdrew $98,000 from her IRA on the promise she would get her money back with 50 percent interest, in 60 days.
But by last summer, investors were worried. Wolas kept delaying the close of the real estate deal, at a cost of $20,000 to $60,000 each time. On Sept. 8, he was going to walk to the train, his girlfriend of 15 years, Lorraine Croft, told the Globe last year. Instead, she offered him a ride — and she hasn’t heard from him since.
His Santander Bank account was drained that day, according to the FBI complaint. And he stopped answering the cellphone his investors had grown so accustomed to calling, according to interviews with Porter and others.
He allegedly took on his fifth identity soon after leaving Quincy, this time calling himself Endicott Asquith. That’s when he met the woman online. They had dinner on Cape Cod in October and stayed in touch by phone and e-mail, according to the complaint. He sent her packages, including one on March 24 that included photos of himself.
She would become a witness in the case.
The woman was on a phone call with Wolas on March 30 when she allegedly heard a passerby ask him for directions to a place in Delray Beach. When she asked if he was in Florida, Wolas allegedly told her no, that he was in Georgia, at a training facility for his clandestine work.
She hung up on him, she told the FBI.
After that conversation, Wolas allegedly texted the woman and suggested they meet the next weekend in Delray Beach. In a call the next day, Wolas allegedly told her he was going to “come clean,” admitted his real name to her, and suggested she look up Wolas and Beachcomber on the Internet to learn more about him.
He also told her he was using yet another name, Cameron Sturge, according to the complaint.
Officials, meanwhile, had pieced together Wolas’s true identity from an old New York driver’s license, with help from Croft and an investigator in the New York district attorney’s office who recalled him from the 1997 case.
At 7:15 on Friday morning, authorities arrested Wolas in Delray Beach, a seaside city where the real Eugene Grathwohl — a friend of Wolas’s former wife — lives.
If found guilty, Wolas faces up to 20 years in prison on the wire fraud charge and a minimum of two years on the identity theft charge. Prosecutors could seek a fine of up to $250,000 on each charge, as well as restitution for investors.