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Former news reporter warns of con-woman after becoming victim

"I am embarrassed to say it out loud, but it's the truth. I was helping an Irish heiress get her inheritance. I fell for one of the oldest cons in the book"

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The holidays are when scammers are really on the prowl, but what happened to one man could happen any time of the year to anyone. 

Former news reporter Jonathan Walton fell victim to a woman who claimed to be an Irish heiress.  And, dozens of the alleged victims include people in Tennessee.

He told ABC24 all about it and how you can protect yourself.

Walton has been making the rounds all over the country promoting his podcast 'Queen of the Con.' The stories he shared, are better than fiction; and he said even he wouldn't believe any of it, if it didn't happen to him.

"I did what 90 percent of con artist's victims never do. I went public with my story and that turned out to be the recipe to stop my con artist in her tracks," Walton said.

It also helped him uncover victims all over the United States and around the world.

Walton and his neighbor, MairSmyth, became real close, real fast.

"I started confiding in her about my family and how they disowned me because I was gay and she pounced. She said her family disowned her too."

Walton said she wined-and-dined him and his husband at fancy restaurants and bought them nice gifts. That's when he alleges the master manipulator was already hard at work, trying to convince him that she had a share of a $25 million inheritance and her powerful family was trying to keep her from getting it.

He said, she showed him text messages and e-mails, as what she called "proof."

"I am embarrassed to say it out loud, but it's the truth. I was helping an Irish heiress get her inheritance. You know, I fell for one of the oldest cons in the book."

During their four-year friendship, he admitted he loaned her thousands of dollars to help her get her inheritance.

While Walton was being scammed, little did he know he was not the only victim. A jailhouse visit revealed almost everything about MairSmyth, whose real name was Mary Ann Smith.

"She's in jail for felony grand theft. She pled guilty to stealing $200,000 from a travel agency, and I was like that's not what she told me, like nothing about her case, was correct. She lied about everything. Her bank accounts were never frozen. There is no family. Like, it's all a scam just to milk money out of me," Walton said.

Fed up and frustrated, he went to police and said investigators turned him away; telling him it's not a crime because he gave her the money, and to take the case to civil court.

Thanks to pages of evidence, text messages, and emails, officers then began an investigation.

Walton took it a step further and went public, then he found dozens of victims in several states; Florida, Michigan, California, New York and right here in Tennessee.

Each one reached out to Walton to share how she allegedly groomed and conned them, too.

In many cases, many were too embarrassed to talk to police and too embarrassed to talk to us about it.

Walton says, "Con artists don't outsmart you. They out-feel you. They get into your heart very quickly. That's the point of becoming friends. Every victim she scams. She offers to help."

He says he's thankful for this experience because it turned him into quite an investigator.

Now, he's helping other victims along the way, bring their con artists to justice. Walton wants you to know, to avoid becoming a victim, you have to recognize the signs.

"They get into your life quickly. They are the new girlfriend or boyfriend. They're the new coworker. In my case, they're the new neighbor."

He says, then comes the praise, the gifts, then suddenly, they're in trouble and need help, but don't do it.

Smith was convicted and sentenced to five years, but, she is now out of prison because of the pandemic, and has left California. She still has several cases against her in other countries.

You can listen to queen of the con, streaming now on Apple iTunes.

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