LARGO (FOX 13) - A St. Pete man is among three accused of using aggressive tactics to bully senior citizens into making large, unwanted purchases of meat.
Deputies say Ronald Vanwie Jr.’s latest victim was an 85-year-old Largo woman who was using a walker to get her mail back on May 11.
According to detectives, Vanwie approached Shirley McGathey outside of her home along Ulmerton Road, trying to sell meat. McGathey said she was not interested, but police say Vanwie, 43, became increasingly aggressive, following her to her front door and even forcing his way into her home when she tried to lock him out.
Vanwie allegedly demanded that McGathey pay $500 for meat. She said she didn’t have $500 but – in fear for her safety – she offered him $200 if he left.
“Vanwie placed the unwanted package of meat in her freezer, collected the $200 check from McGathey, and left her home,” a sheriff’s office spokesperson explained. “Investigators say McGathey reported she was terrified of Vanwie and was forced to pay him for her safety.”
McGathey called the sheriff’s office to report the robbery. Investigators soon realized that Pinellas County Consumer Protection was investigating similar cases involving two other employees of Vanwie’s employer, identified as Gourmet Grocery LLC.
Detectives arrested Vanwie on Thursday and charged him with robbery, burglary, theft from a person over 65, home solicitation without a permit, and failure to provide a three-day right to cancel. They say he has a past history of “reported aggressive meat sales” and a conviction of home solicitation without a permit.
The two other Gourmet Grocery employees, Andrew Tsaffaras and Erick Harmon, were arrested Friday.
The investigation continues. According to the sheriff’s office, detectives are asking anyone who might have been a victim to contact Detective J. Holden at 727-582-6200 or e-mail email@example.com.