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Published December 11 2012

Man accused of swindling Fargo churchgoers with plea for help

FARGO – A 36-year-old man accused of swindling multiple Fargo churchgoers by claiming to need money for a plane ticket because of family tragedy overseas may be linked to similar scams in other states.

Alan Michael Farah II was charged with felony theft this week in Cass County District Court. He is not in custody, and a warrant was expected to be issued for his arrest, prosecutor Leah Viste said.

Farah was arrested in February for a similar scam in Manchester, N.H., court documents state. Viste, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, said she was still looking into that case.

The Union Leader newspaper in Manchester reported that Alan Farha of Carollton, Texas, was arrested Feb. 4 and charged with theft by deception. The Union Leader story said Farha claimed to various people that his parents were killed in Serbia, Syria and Jerusalem. Police there said the man was wanted for alleged scams in at least four other states and had used the last name of Farahat in similar scams in other states, including Florida, New York, Illinois and Minnesota.

One of Farah’s alleged victims in Fargo was the Good Samaritan Anglican Mission, which has about 25 to 30 members and meets at Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral in Fargo.

Bishop George Fincke said the mission gave Farah about $300 from the church offering on Nov. 4 after Farah said he needed money for a ticket to the Middle East because his grandmother and parents were killed by an improvised explosive device as they were leaving Syria.

“He had all the proper liturgical and religious words down perfectly. He was a scam artist,” Fincke said.

For a while, Farah called Fincke with periodic updates, but they eventually stopped, he said.

“He either has stopped receiving calls from me or has thrown away that phone,” he said.

Another of Farah’s alleged victims in Fargo told police that a man stood up during a Friday service at Temple Beth El on Nov. 2 and asked for prayers for his parents. The man identified himself as having the last name “Katz” and told everyone that his parents had been involved in a car accident in Israel, the woman told police.

The woman said the man asked for $180 to help buy a plane ticket to Israel to help his younger siblings. She said she gave him $140 and that others attending the service gave him $40.

She said she gave the man a ride to an apartment near Concordia College in Moorhead, and he told her he was studying to be an intern at the Radisson Hotel in Fargo. The woman decided to report the incident when she heard that a news release, issued by Fargo police Nov. 5, warned about a man scamming local churches.

A churchgoer at St. Anthony of Padua Parish reported that a man fitting Farah’s description used a similar story to scam worshippers out of $200 for a plane ticket to Europe.

Farah faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the Class C felony.

Fincke said falling victim to the alleged scam hasn’t shaken his faith.

“In fact, Holy Scripture tells us all men are sinners, and what he did was act that out in the worst possible way – ripping off a mission,” he said.

He said he doesn’t expect to recover the money.

“I hope justice will be done,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528