He was known to some of his victims as ‘Soni’ and others as ‘DK’ – initials that represented a different name for a different con. On Friday afternoon, he was Suresh Patel, waiting near Western Railway Colony in Kherwadi to meet Jayantilal, a businessman desperate to get his son admitted to Jamnabai Narsee School. But there was a catch: Jayantilal was a plain-clothed cop, and this time, Mehfooz Zaki Ahmed Sheikh, 27, had walked into a police trap.
On February 6, Mirror had first published a report on how a conman was duping parents by promising their wards admission into the elite Jamnabai Narsee, Billabong and other schools. The tout had also approached in January actress Renuka Shahane, who had immediately filed acomplaint at Versova police station. Since then, at least 20 parents have reportedly come forward saying that they were approached by a tout promising admission for Rs 5 lakh. Sheikh would take an advance of Rs 1.5 lakh, along with the necessary documents.
To ensure anonymity, Sheikh would only speak to his potential victims on phone. In the past one year, Sheikh hired about 15 men who were promised a salary of Rs 10,000 a month to give out his visiting cards – bearing initials ‘DK’ and a phone number – and collect documents and money from unsuspecting parents. On receiving the advance, he would discard the SIM card and throw way the cheap phone, eluding even his ‘agents’.
For the last five weeks, a police hunt for him had forced Sheikh to go underground. He had a new number and a new phone. So a team of crime branch unit 8 led by senior police inspector Deepak Phatangare laid down a trap to flush him out. The telephone records obtained from the victims showed that the suspect was operating from Bandra. The team comprising police inspector R Kasbe, assistant police inspector Sanjay More and inspector Jyotsna Rasam spread the word in the area that a wealthy Gujarati businessman was willing to pay anything to get his son admitted to Jamnabai.
Phatangare said, “Sheikh took the bait and called on the number being circulated by us. He introduced himself as Suresh Patel and spoke fluent Gujarati. Our man agreed to all his terms but insisted that he would pay the amount directly to him.” A meeting was set up near Western Railway Colony in Kherwadi. On Friday afternoon, dressed in a blue checked shirt and jeans, Sheikh arrived at the spot and was arrested. On Saturday, he was taken to Andheri metropolitan court which remanded him to police custody till April 25.
Cops are now looking for the accused’s cousin Umaid Shaikh, 19, a student of Bandra’s National College. Speaking to Mirror, Renuka Shahane said, “We still want to know how the accused got access to the numbers of so many parents? Who leaked our details from the school database? There is more to this case.” Billabong principal Padma Negi and a Jamnabai spokerperson told Mirror that are happy that the culprit has been nabbed, and they will seek more information about the case from the cops on Monday.