By Lisa Redmond

MediaNews

LOWELL -- The scam was simple: Jillian Walkowicz would troll the UMass Lowell campus looking for gullible students who would believe her lie that she needed money to rent a room so that she and her two children could leave her abusive husband.

She would ask students to take a $200 check made out to her on Herbert Imbimbo's account, walk the student to the ATM and exchange the cash for the check.

Within days after depositing the check, two students who fell for this scam found themselves cheated out of $400 when they discovered that the checks bounced. Imbimbo's account was not only devoid of money, it had been closed.

In Lowell District Court on Thursday, Imbimbo, of 41 Bowers St., Apt. 2, appeared shocked as he pleaded not guilty to two counts of conspiracy in connection with this scam.

Prosecutor Phil Chen noted Imbimbo has 57 convictions on his record with 53 defaults.

Judge Michael Uhlarik set Imbimbo's bail at $3,000 cash . Imbimbo's next court date is Oct. 4 for a pretrial conference.

Walkowicz, who faces charges in this case, defaulted on her arraignment. There is a warrant out for her arrest.

According to court documents, the first victim told police that on Jan. 29 she was walking when she was approached off campus by a woman who said she was trying to flee her abusive husband with her two children and needed a hotel room.

The woman showed her a $200 check from Digital Credit Unit drawn on Imbimbo's account and made out to Walkowicz. The victim walked with the woman to an ATM gave her the cash, while the woman signed over the check.

On Feb. 3 the victim learned the check bounced.

The second victim was approached in the same way off-campus on Feb. 17. She provided the same amount of cash and the check bounced.

The victims were able to identify the woman using a photo array. When police spoke to Walkowicz she allegedly admitted to using this scam to feed a $60 to $80 per day heroin habit. She has used the scam since November 2012 in Lowell, Chelmsford and Boston.

She targeted UMass Lowell students because she believed they were more naive, she told police.

Walkowicz allegedly admitted to police she obtained the checks from Imbimbo, who also had a heroin addiction. In exchange for his checks on a closed account, she would give him a portion of the cash.

Police spoke to several witnesses who indicated that they saw Imbimbo give Walkowicz a box of checks, according to court documents.

Imbimbo was confronted by police during a phone call while he was in detox for his $100-per-day heroin habit, court documents state.

In his alleged statement, Imbimbo admitted knowing Walkowicz was scamming people, but didn't know how. He told police he had received $120 from Walkowicz.

But defense attorney Roland Milliard said Imbimbo, a disabled Army veteran, denies any knowledge of this scam.

He also noted that Imbimbo reported the checks as stolen and that the writing on those checks did not match his client's handwriting.

Milliard told the judge that Imbimbo was under duress when he spoke to the police from detox.

Follow Lisa Redmond on Tout and Twitter@lredmond13_lisa.