Suspect in 'sick grandchild' scam arrested in Church Hill

Jeff Bobo • Jan 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A Rogersville man accused of obtaining donations to buy medication for a sick child who doesn’t exist was reportedly found hiding in a closet at a relative’s house Monday morning when police came to arrest him.

The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office received a tip Monday that John David Bundren, 29, 120 Shiloh Church Road, Rogersville, was at a residence on Grandview Street in Church Hill.

Bundren had been wanted since Friday when HCSO Detective Randy Collier issued warrants for two counts of theft under $500 stemming from Bundren allegedly taking donations from two people in Surgoinsville.

His wife, Mary Ann Ferrell, 42, is now also charged with being a party to theft under $500 for allegedly knowing about the scam and benefiting from it. She too was arrested Monday morning at the Church Hill residence.

They both remained lodged in the Hawkins County Jail Monday evening without bond. Bundren had been on probation for a burglary and theft conviction last summer, while Ferrell had been free on bond on a charge of theft over $10,000 for allegedly stealing industrial-size saw blades and other items from a business last year.

Bundren is accused of soliciting donations from numerous businesses and individuals from Surgoinsville to Kingsport for a grandchild he claimed was in need of a kidney transplant.

A flier allegedly distributed by Bundren stated the child is “eight months old and has to have a kidney transplant to keep living.”

The flier also stated that the Shriners are helping, but they were asking for donations to buy medicine for the child “in order to stay alive.”

Collier confirmed from family members that there is no sick grandchild in their family. As of last Friday, two alleged victims who’d given money to Bundren had filed complaints with the sheriff’s office.

Initially the scam was believed to have been perpetrated in and around Surgoinsville and the Stanley Valley area of Hawkins County. On Monday, however, the HCSO received several calls from people claiming to have given Bundren a donation for the sick child.

The exact number of complaints wasn’t tallied Monday due to several different detectives taking calls, but it was estimated at least to be 10, and possibly more.

One Hawkins County church claimed to have given Bundren $100, and a business on Lynn Garden Drive in Kingsport claimed to have given him $50.

There were many more calls to the sheriff’s office from people who said they’d been asked for a donation but declined.

Surgoinsville Police Chief Jeff Hesoun said he took two additional statements from alleged victims — one from a person at the Hawkins County Airport who said he gave Bundren $40, and one from a local body shop owner who said he gave $50.

A search of Bundren and Farrell’s residence Friday morning by the HCSO may have offered some insight into the couple’s motive for the scam.

When detectives knocked on the door looking to serve the arrest warrant on Bundren, the door popped open, according to reports. Detectives reported hearing a radio playing and noticed several lights on in the residence and went inside.

Detectives then allegedly observed a spoon in the kitchen containing a crushed white powder believed to be morphine, as well as some syringes. Detectives also allegedly found several different types of pills. Ferrell has additionally been charged with possession of Schedule II narcotics, possession of legend drugs, violation of the Tennessee Drug Control Act, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

More charges are expected to be filed against the couple as the numerous complaints are sorted out.

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