Prosecutors have charged a 36-year-old Costa Mesa man with attempted grand theft for allegedly scheming to coax donations from wealthy East Coast families by sending them phony invitations to a high school graduation.
Costa Mesa police began investigating Ronald L. Charter in May after a number of families called Newport Harbor High School saying they had received invitations to the graduation of Jennifer Lynn Shapiro, whom they didn’t know. The callers suspected the invitations were a ruse to get cash or gifts.
According to court records, Charter established a mailbox on May 13 in the name of Jennifer Shapiro and requested that all mail addressed to her be placed in that box.
The records state that police confronted Charter and he claimed to have spent $5,000 on the invitations. According to the documents, Charter told investigators he was mailing more than 2,500 invitations “to randomly selected multimillionaire families” because “he wanted to see that these families had fun.”
Investigators who searched Charter’s home on May 29 found boxes with the graduation invitations, address labels and an envelope marked “top secret” containing photographs, fictitious business statements and mailing list catalogs, the records show.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Kathleen Trudell said two families responded to the invitations by sending “checks for small amounts of money.”
Charter, who owns a Costa Mesa company that makes reptile breeding enclosures, was charged with two counts of petty theft in connection with those checks and with attempted grand theft.