Con artist working downtown churches

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 | 9:51 p.m. CDT; updated 9:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Picture of man going by name of Alan Farha or Michael.

COLUMBIA — A con artist has been soliciting money from downtown churches, businesses and individuals for two months, the Columbia Police Department said.

The suspected man has been visiting local churches to get information about church activities and members so that he can ask them for money, according to a police news release. He then tells of personal hardship, and many, but not all, churches or members have given him money.

Jim Bryan, senior pastor of Missouri United Methodist Church on Ninth Street, said he and his church have encountered this man more than once. He said the man has given different names, including Alan Farha and Michael, and claimed to be a journalism student.

“He came to our church probably a couple of months ago,” Bryan said. “He made an appointment and sat down with us, and we gave him some money.”

After that, Bryan said the man came to some Wednesday night activities at the church, made contact with members and later called them. He said the man would mention Bryan’s name or the name of assistant pastor Keith Vessell when he approached the church members.

“He’s calling my church members at home, and I don’t know how he’s getting their numbers,” Bryan said.

Bryan said he has received e-mails from the St. Thomas More Newman Center, the Special Business District and Fairview United Methodist Church warning about the con artist.

Bryan said he thinks the community has been well-informed about the situation.

“I think we kind of have a handle on it now,” he said. “I saw him again today and was able to tell him rather forcefully not to talk to my church members again.”

The man has been similarly described in several reports. At least one victim has identified the man as Alan Farha in a photo lineup, and police have applied for a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of stealing, according to the release. Farha’s hair is likely shorter than in the picture, and he was seen clean shaven on Wednesday, according to the release.

Police expect the investigation into the extent of the fraud to continue over the next few days, according to the release.

Police said if residents are approached by the man, they should contact police and not give him money. Any previous victims are encouraged to contact the Police Department.

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Robert Baker August 23, 2011 | 3:08 p.m.

This man who identified himself as Michael Wasaff was at our Wednesday night service on 8/3/11 at St John's Episcopal Church in Tulsa "needing $200 to complete the amount of his airfare with his bereavement discounted ticket to fly to Damascus for his father's funeral" He said that he was a seminary student at SMU. We gave him $300. When I met with a men's group on 8/6 someone said that he'd been to St Peter's on the previous Wednesday night with the same story. He was seen again in Tulsa last Thursday 8/18 at an AA meeting.

Below are my email to him and his response "from O'Hare airport on his way to Lebanon".

It was nice 2 receive this email as i sit n chicago's o'hare airport waiting on my plane 2 take off. It's quite boring. The "m" stands for meisha, who is an arabic saint&archangel. The wasaff is another arabic name- the correct spelling is technically wosoff or wosaff. But they r all prsonal. NO more appeals 4 prsonal loans. God has blessed me. thank u again! ----- Sent from my Virgin Mobile.

-----Original Message-----
From: Robert Baker
Sent: 8/4/2011 3:35:58 PM
Subject: Lebanon Trip

I didn’t record your name. We will pray for your mother Barbara’s recovery and your mission for your family.

Please let us at St John’s/Tulsa know how it’s going and what are the websites that you were referencing in your appeal for our assistance.

Blessings, Bob

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