Authorities: Inmates’ scam targeted lotto winner, others

Michael Terpening and Steven Wilcox entered no contest pleas in scheme

Michael Terpening, Steven Wilcox
Left; Michael Terpening. Right: Steven Wilcox.

PONTIAC, Mich. (WOOD) — Two Michigan prison inmates, one of whom is behind bars for sexually assaulting teens in Barry County, are in more trouble for a jailhouse scam that authorities say targeted an out-of-state lottery winner, online critics and a former prison pen pal.

Michael Terpening and his alleged partner, Steven Wilcox, each pleaded no contest to three counts of larceny by conversion in Oakland County for the scam.

Both were originally charged with five counts of conspiracy to commit false pretenses of $100,000 or more. They are scheduled to be sentenced April 12 in Oakland County.

According to police and prosecutors, Wilcox was trying to collect on a lawsuit he won against an attorney who later died. His argument, in short, was that because the lawyer owed him money, if he could find people who owe the lawyer money, then he could collect from them.

However, he and Terpening targeted people who say they had no connection to the attorney. Among the victims was a New Jersey man who won a $335 million Powerball Jackpot, Wilcox’s old prison pen pal and two bloggers who were critical of Terpening during his criminal trial.

Court records show Terpening helped with some of the paperwork filed against the victims and Terpening’s mothers address was used as a mailing address.

Terpening is in prison for sexually assaulting some of the teens who attended the home for troubled youths he ran in Barry County. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, Wilcox is behind bars for first-degree home invasion and kidnapping out of Oakland County.

The two have an unusual relationship. While investigators say they partnered in the jailhouse scheme, court records show the two physically fought before a court hearing in the case. Wilcox also sued Terpening and his family in both Barry County and federal courts. Wilcox claims Terpening sexually assaulted him in prison and Terpening signed over his interest in all his assets in an effort to keep him quiet. Wilcox then sued to collect on those assets, but lost.

Court records show Wilcox, who has been accused of forgery and fraud, also targeted another high-profile West Michigan convict — Agostino Comella, who is serving life in prison for murdering his wife in Kent County in 2009. Court records show Wilcox tried to tie Comella with the attorney in an attempt to collect.

But that is not the only interaction between the two. Wilcox filed a strange lawsuit in Kent County Circuit Court claiming he and Comella had agreed Comella would get half of the proceeds from the lawsuit against the attorney. In exchange, Wilcox would get Comella’s assets and life insurance. Wilcox sued Comella and his daughters to collect on the agreement. It took more than a year for the courts to dismiss everything.

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