Ray White, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, was left homeless after befriending a con man who systematically scammed him out of his South Philadelphia house, vintage Bentley and Cadillac, and everything else he valued.
On Tuesday, 61-year-old Melvin McIlwaine pleaded guilty to cheating White of his worldly possessions, clearing the way for the retiree who served in the Battle of the Bulge to put his life back together.
The guilty plea came at "the eleventh hour," just as jury selection was about to begin for McIlwaine's criminal fraud trial, said Assistant District Attorney Deborah Cooper Nixon.
McIlwaine was able to delay his trial by complaining about illnesses that Nixon said were just a continuation of his deceptions. This was McIlwaine's last opportunity to plead guilty.
"When it was time to face the music, there was nobody to con except the judge and jury," Nixon said. "He wasn't prepared to do that."
Michael Huff, McIlwaine's attorney, could not be reached for comment.
White was unable to attend court Tuesday, but he plans to be at McIlwaine's sentencing, set for Feb. 6, Nixon said.
McIlwaine, also of South Philadelphia, faces a maximum of 62 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to one count of dealing in proceeds of illegal activities, three counts of theft by deception, and three counts of theft by unlawful taking.
White served as a first lieutenant with the Ninth Air Force and carried paratroopers to the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he became a stockbroker and lived at the Dorchester on Rittenhouse Square for 25 years. He later moved to a house he bought in the 1200 block of South Juniper Street, where he lived alone.
As a result of McIlwaine's pleading guilty, White will get back his 1964 silver Bentley and gold 1969 Cadillac convertible, which have been in police custody pending the outcome of the case.
The house, however, is tied up in litigation because it is now owned by a real estate investment company.
The scam started in 2012 when McIlwaine befriended the then-88-year-old White after noticing the mint-condition luxury cars parked outside his house, Nixon said.
McIlwaine first duped White into turning over the titles of the cars, and then selling the house, playing on fears that the cars could be stolen and that his neighborhood was unsafe, Nixon said.
McIlwaine was supposed to arrange for White to move back into the Dorchester, Nixon said.
Instead, McIlwaine left the aging veteran homeless.
White committed himself to the VA Medical Center in West Philadelphia after a nervous breakdown, according to court records, then went to police.