File picture: Timothy A. Clary/AFP
Pretoria - Where's the best place to run an elaborate fraud scheme? For two convicted criminals, it was behind bars in a Pretoria prison.

The inmates, Lucas Masemola and Tebogo Mashishi, were serving a seven-year sentence at the Odi prison for carjacking and possession of stolen goods.

From there they allegedly phoned police stations posing as senior police officers, asking for information on various criminal cases.

Earlier this month, Masemola, 44, and Mashishi, 24, were busted by the national anti-corruption detective unit for fraud.

They had been under surveillance by the unit since July, after numerous complaints to the Crime Stop hotline.

“The suspects are alleged to have obtained information about complainants and suspects of criminal cases, mostly in respect of carjackings and theft of motor vehicles, and they would use this information to extort money from their victims,” said police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Katlego Mogale.

“The suspects would then contact crime victims, inform them that their vehicles had been recovered and that the victim must deposit certain amounts of money through e-wallet/money market to get their vehicles back,” she said.

While investigators haven't ruled out possible police collusion, Mogale said this was still subject to investigation.

According to a source close to the investigation, the pair would often tell their victims there was a possibility the cars would not be returned because of issues with the engine or chassis numbers being removed after the vehicles were stolen.

This would essentially force the victim to bribe whom they believed were police officers to get their vehicles back.

When they targeted suspected criminals who had been arrested, the pair would contact the suspect's next of kin to ask for money, usually to solicit a bribe to have the case dockets disappear.

Mogale said the anti-corruption investigation unit had discovered the pair had targeted multiple victims across Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape.

“The two suspects were subsequently arrested in Pretoria correctional facilities. (They) were found in possession of cellphones which they used to contact victims,” Mogale said.

The pair were taken to the Kempton Park magistrate’s court on Tuesday, facing charges of extortion, fraud, theft, defeating the ends of justice and impersonating a police officer.

The Saturday Star understands that complaints have been laid with prison authorities regarding how the men were able to keep their devices in their cells without being detected.

The police are concerned they have not yet found all of Makena and Masemola’s victims, and are asking anyone who has received suspicious phone calls from people purporting to be police officers to come forward.

“Community members are urged to come forward with any information in relation to this scam or if they might have been a victim of the scam.

"Captain Kwena Sefaamela (0713619419) and Sergeant Mpho Mashishi (0827705404) may be contacted during office hours,” said Mogale.

Saturday Star