Career con-artist arrested; investigators seek victims - KMSP-TV

Career con-artist arrested; investigators seek victims

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Minneapolis police say 52-year-old Mark Christian Bell has made a living swindling, forging checks and scamming innocent victims -- but now he's locked up and they're urging anyone he's targeted to come forward and keep him there.

The Minneapolis Police Department made a city-wide announcement on Thursday, urging anyone who encountered Bell to contact them even though it may be difficult to admit they've been conned.

Investigators describe Bell as "skilled," and he's been convicted time and time again. After serving his short stints, he returned to his old habits. This time, however, police say Bell got violent and they hope to put an end to his criminal career.

Inspectors say Bell begins his cons by gaining the trust of vulnerable, good-hearted people.

"I really feel like I was taken advantage of," Peter Bergstrom admitted.

The past few months have been difficult for Bergstrom, a retired 67-year-old Target employee. A year ago, his wife of 37 years died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

"Not having her around, I tried to be friendly with people and things like that because I felt alone," Bergstrom told FOX 9 News.

That's why when Bell knocked on Bergstrom's door on an April night while he was watching television with his birds, he felt like helping him out was the right thing to do.

"He came in and gave me this sad story about his car and it just kind of went on from there," Bergstrom said.

From April to August, Bergstrom lent money to Bell.

"I had notable people call me, say that they'd work for churches and that he was working for this church group that helped out various churches -- and that he'd helped out Teen Challenge and things like that," Bergstrom recalled.

But Bergstrom didn't know about Bell's 74-page rap sheet. Minneapolis police say Bell has been at it since 1984 and has used 20 different aliases in his career. In Minnesota alone, he's racked up 43 charges and up to 50 victims.

Bergstrom realized he'd been taken for a ride after he figured out the calls were phony -- and that he'd lent Bell way more than the hustler's fair share.

"Somewhere around $12,000," he estimated.

On Aug. 2, Bergstrom approached Bell to retrieve the loan -- but he got more than he bargained for. The two were sitting inside Bergstrom's car when Bell told him a friend had the money. Bergstrom told FOX 9 News when tried to get out of the car, Bell jumped on him from behind, started to beat him up and then stole his wallet. Afterward, Bell took off with Bergstrom's car, according to the charges.

Now, Bell is sitting in the Hennepin County Jail with bail set at $100,000. He faces a felony aggravated robbery charge in Bergstrom's case, one of just four charges he's incurred so far this summer. Yet, police believe there are other victims too, and they hope those people will come forward to help keep Bell behind bars.

"He preys on good people who have good intentions," Crime Prevention Specialist Amy Lavender said. "Please, don't be ashamed, come forward, let us know. It could really help us keep him in jail for a while."

Anyone who was targeted by Bell is urged to contact John Baumann, with the Minneapolis Police Department, at 612-673-2839 or by sending an e-mail to john.baumann@minneapolismn.gov.

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