- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - A Fort Wayne woman and her two adult children are accused of bilking a couple out of about $1.5 million over seven years by sending text messages purportedly from the Mafia threatening to abduct family members or family members of friends.

Kelly Jo Custer, 53, is scheduled to appear in federal court in Fort Wayne on Monday for a probable cause hearing on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, The Journal Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/1I5URh7 ). Sidney Custer and Ashley Custer, 25, are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and also are scheduled to appear in court Monday.

None of the three could be reached for comment because they were ordered held without bond following their initial court appearances on Thursday. Messages seeking comment were left Sunday by The Associated Press for the attorneys for Kelly Jo Custer and Ashley Custer. Court records do not list an attorney for Sidney Custer.

Police say the money paid by the unidentified couple, who lived in Fort Wayne when the threats started in 2007 and now reside in Florida, went to Kelly Jo Custer, who had rented a house from the couple that year.

According to court documents, Custer began going to the couple saying she had been informed that the couple owed the Mafia a debt and if they did not pay their friends’ or families’ lives would be in jeopardy. The documents do not say why the couple believed Custer.

The couple paid Custer $3,000 to $10,000 at a time, and on at least one occasion, paid her $50,000 after receiving a threatening message saying if they didn’t make the payment a friend’s daughter would be killed, the court documents say.

The couple went to authorities in March saying they were being extorted by the Mafia. By that time, they had been led to believe that Custer had been killed in February by the Mafia even though they were continuing to receive threatening messages from her phone.

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net

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