This serial conman’s modus operandi: Never use a cellphone at home

Crime branch officers said that the accused has been identified as Prem Makhija.

Written by Gautam Sandip Mengle | Mumbai | Published: March 10, 2015 2:01:42 am

The Mumbai police crime branch has arrested a serial conman whose best trick to stay out of the police radar was to never use his cellphone in or around his house, and never let his victims see his residence.

The 32-year-old Versova resident was handed over to the Kolhapur police last week in connection with a case filed against him by a dairy run by MP Raju Shetti, one of Maharashtra’s most prominent farmer leaders, and the Mumbai police will soon be seeking his custody in connection with a string of similar cases against him.

Crime branch officers said that the accused, identified as Prem Makhija, contacted the Swabhimani Agro Products agency in Jaysingpur, Kolhapur late in February this year, saying that he wanted to purchase ghee in bulk.

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The dairy is run by MP Raju Shetti’s party, the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana. Shetti’s assistant, Mahavir Patil, who is the CEO of Swabhimani Agro, said, “Makhija ordered 15 boxes, each one being of 15 kg. The cost is Rs 390 per box including delivery charges, to be delivered to Mumbai, and said that he would pay on delivery. We agreed and sent the consignment to Mumbai. Makhija, however, contacted the delivery boy while he was on his way, and told him to stop at Panvel, where he himself received the consignment.” Makhija gave a cheque to the delivery boy, assuring him that there would be no problems. He then contacted the dairy again and placed and order for 35 boxes of ghee.

“The second consignment, too, was not allowed to reach its predetermined destination. Makhija received the consignment in Santacruz and sent the delivery boy back with another cheque. This was when we smelled a rat and on checking found the cheques to be bogus. We then registered a case against him with the Jaysingpur police,” said Patil.

Conducting parallel inquiries, the Mumbai crime branch started tracking the location of the cellphone from which Makhija had contacted the dairy.

“The cell phone never seemed to move beyond Carter Road in Bandra, and were made exhaustive inquiries in Bandra but failed to come up with any leads.

Finally, after going through the most dialed calls, we zeroed in on a person that Makhija used to call frequently and contacted him,” said a crime branch officer.

The friend gave the police a second number, and told the police that Makhija kept his SIM card out of his cell phone unless making a call, as cellular locations can only be tracked if there is a SIM card in the handset.

The police then started calling both numbers till they got through to one of them. Using the same friend, they convinced Makhija to come to the Versova police station and once he showed up, detained him for inquiries.

“As soon as we took Makhija into custody, he asked whether this was about cashew nuts, giving us the first hint that he had committed more than one con jobs. Further inquiries revealed that over the last few years, he has ‘bought’ cashew nuts, fruit juice, mineral water and energy drinks from wholesalers all over the state using bogus cheques, which he would then sell to retailers in Mumbai,” said the officer.

A search of Makhija’s person also revealed a cell phone without its back cover and one SIM card in each of his shoes. Makhija has allegedly told the police that he would keep the back cover off his cell phone so that he could quickly insert the SIM card to make a call and slide it out immediately afterwards.

gautam.mengle@expressindia.com

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