Winckel gets prison for defrauding cancer victim of $25,500

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Levi Winckel was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and ordered to pay full restitution after bilking a cancer victim out of $25,500.

By Brooke Curley

SAFFORD – A man who took advantage of a cancer victim at her most vulnerable moments was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison Wednesday to be followed by 7 years of probation.

Levi Nicholas Winckel, 34, of Safford, pleaded guilty to an amended count of attempted fraudulent schemes and artifices – a Class-3 felony – and was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and ordered to pay the victim, Laura Dunbar, $25,500. The maximum allowable amount of Winckel’s prison wages will go toward repaying Dunbar, and, in case she dies before he gets out of prison, Winckel must continue the restitution to Dunbar’s heir.

Dunbar told Gila Valley Central that her last scan showed a possible new cancerous lymph node and that she would rather spend her energy trying to get well than face Winckel in court. When she got word that he was willing to take a plea, she said she was in favor and that while she wasn’t looking to punish Winckel per say, she just didn’t want him to be able to take advantage of anyone else.

“I’m personally just very relieved to let it go and be done,” Dunbar said. “It just caused me so much anxiety to have to go through this.”

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Laura Dunbar said she was happy the ordeal was over and she could concentrate on her health.

Gila Valley Central first broke the story in April when Dunbar sat down for a video interview to tell her tale of woe. Dunbar, who was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, was given a year to live by doctors when she met Winckel, who promised to help her create a nest egg for her autistic son. 

Winckel then managed to con Dunbar into investing in Niantic stock, from the makers of the popular Pokemon Go app. It was only later  Dunbar learn that Niantic wasn’t publicly traded and Winckel couldn’t have purchased the stock.

Dunbar was undergoing radiation treatments at the time and after grifting her on the fake stock, Winckel also managed to get Dunbar to purchase a fake annuity. All told, over a span of several months, Winckel swindled Dunbar out of $25,500. 

After not being able to get her money back or receive any paperwork from Winckel regarding her “investments”, Dunbar took her story to the police, which investigated and arrested Winckel. 

According to his statements to police during interrogation, Winckel actually worked as a newspaper delivery driver for the Eastern Arizona Courier during the time he conned Dunbar into believing he was a financial advisor. He told police that he had squandered all of Dunbar’s “investment” money on gambling and partying, including purchasing prescription pills to feed his drug addiction, according to police reports.

Video report from April: 

In addition to the attempted fraudulent schemes and artifices charge, Winckel also pleaded guilty to theft – a Class-2 felony – and fraudulent schemes and artifices – a Class-2 felony – and was given a probation tail of 7 years for those charges once he gets out of prison. The second fraudulent schemes charge was for bilking Bashas’ grocery store by depositing a payroll check via a photo application and then cashing the same check at the grocery store. He was ordered to pay Bashas’ $652.53 in restitution.

Dunbar thanked everyone involved in her case and said they handled it with kindness and professionally. Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney L. Scott Bennett handled the case for the prosecution, while Rebecca Johnson was the attorney on record for the defense.

“The police, the detective, everybody has been so kind,” Dunbar said. “Victim Witness and Mr. Bennett were so good, and (GVC) for helping get the message out that you have to be wary at all times. Everybody was just so kind and helpful and fought for me. I appreciate that more than anything that nobody treated me like I was dumb because I fell for it. That’s huge. That made it a much better journey to go through. I’m glad to be done and just spend my energy trying to be well and get healthy and not be anxious about it anymore.”

If Winckel violates his probation or doesn’t continue to pay his restitution to Dunbar or Bashas’, he faces up to 25 years in prison.