GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Deans says he’s still trying to get his money back from Tony Wilkins.
“I thought he was an attorney,” Deans told Target 8 investigators.
He said he was introduced to Wilkins through a friend who had Wilkins doing legal work for her. Deans said Wilkins made himself look like a lawyer, bringing a man he said was a private eye to one meeting and a note-taking secretary to another.
He said Wilkins kept asking him for money for various legal tasks.
“He kept nickel-and-diming me,” Dean said.
But Tony Wilkins is not a lawyer — although he’s played one before. In 2007, the Michigan Bar Association sued him and got a court order to make him stop posing as an attorney after he took money from several people, including a woman who paid him $3,000 when she was desperately seeking a lawyer for her jailed son.
Target 8 investigators caught Wilkins in a home improvement scam in 2008. At that time, Wilkins admitted he took money from a homeowner for a window job but that he “spent the money, probably almost immediately, on … other things.”
In a 2012 probation report, an agent said he had reports of Wilkins trying to con churches out of financial help with bogus stories and renting out fake apartments. The agent wrote that when he confronted Wilkins about it, Wilkins promised, “From this day forward, no more scamming.”
But by 2015, Jeffrey Deans and his friend went together to Grand Rapids police to report that Wilkins was acting like a lawyer again and taking their money. The Kent County prosecutor charged Wilkins with larceny by conversion in the case of Deans’ friend. Wilkins paid her back as part of a plea deal and did a year in jail.
But the prosecutor didn’t charge Wilkins in Deans’ case, so nobody was forcing him to give Deans his money back. Deans called Target 8 investigators after several attempts to get charges filed against Wilkins.
At our request, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker took a look at the case. He says three different lawyers in his office looked over the evidence Deans has, but he says the receipts and other paperwork he has would be hard to tie to Wilkins beyond a reasonable doubt, so the prosecutor’s office can’t charge him.
An assistant prosecutor did try to bluff Wilkins into repaying Deans. According to a court transcript, the assistant prosecutor told Wilkins they would hold off charging him in Deans’ case if he paid him back. But Wilkins didn’t and the prosecution says it didn’t have enough to make good on the threat.
Target 8 investigators found Wilkins back in jail. He did 90 days in Kent County jail for failing to register his actual address with the sex offender registry from a 1986 case. That also got him a five-month prison stint for violating his probation.
“I never claimed to be no lawyer, per se. I’m not a lawyer, I know that,” Wilkins said in a phone interview from the jail.
He said he learned paralegal skills during a prison stay.
“I said that I was a paralegal and have a paralegal license,” he said.
But the state of Michigan doesn’t license paralegals and they have to be supervised by an actual attorney.
Wilkins said he tries to help people file legal papers.
But “things don’t go their way and then it becomes a money issue and first thing they say is, ‘You took my money, you’re a con artist,’ but that’s not true,” he said.
Prosecutor Becker says in the larceny by conversion case in which he pleaded guilty, Wilkins forged court documents.
At first, Wilkins denied he owed Jeffrey Deans any money, but by the end of the jailhouse phone call, he softened a bit.
“I didn’t have a problem with paying him $2,000. That I feel I owe him. If he’s willing to take that, I have no problem with that,” he said.
But Deans said he paid Wilkins some $6,000 and is going to file a lawsuit to try to get it back.
Wilkins gets out of prison in five months.