Victims of a Dorchester County rental scam have described Bethany Martinelli as a smooth-talking con artist adept at getting people to part with their hard-earned cash.
But Martinelli recently found herself quite speechless when a “Dateline NBC” crew confronted her about an ad she’d placed on Craigslist trying to unload her unborn baby for adoption.
“Dateline” featured the 37-year-old Ridgeville woman in a “Wild, Wild Web” episode in which the news program investigates the world of online classified ads.
The segment focused on an ad Martinelli placed in April offering an off-the-books adoption, saying she wanted her unborn child to go to loving parents but she didn’t feel comfortable dealing with an adoption agency.
Under South Carolina law, however, adoption proceedings must involve an attorney and be approved in court.
In the segment, Martinelli, using the name “Beth Dennis,” met with “Dateline” producers posing as an adoptive couple at a Charleston restaurant. She told them this was her first pregnancy and that she has a clean record other than “a speeding ticket here and there.”
Martinelli asked the faux couple for “a couple hundred dollars” to pay for her moving expenses. “And if you could help me with food and gas, I mean that would — that would be great,” she said.
She also suggested that the man accompany her to the hospital when she gives birth so he could sign his name on the birth certificate as the biological father, allowing him to take the baby home. “For all they know, it could be a one-night stand,” she told him in the segment.
When “Dateline” reporter Chris Hansen showed up and confronted Martinelli with her real name and her extensive criminal record, she denied it all and abruptly left.
Soon after, however, Dorchester County sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Marshals locked her up in connection with a rental home scam.
Martinelli is accused of taking $3,600 from four people who were looking to rent the home where she lives in Ridgeville, deputies said.
The problem was, she doesn’t own the home and had no power to rent the property, they said.
One woman told The Post and Courier she lost her last $1,000 in savings after she gave the money to Martinelli as a down payment to rent 116 Western Sun Drive. Yvonne Cusack said she and her 5-year-old daughter nearly ended up homeless as a result.
Cusack, who appeared on the “Dateline” episode, said she’s been contacted by several people around the country since placing her own ad on Craigslist warning others about Martinelli. Some people claimed to have been hoodwinked by Martinelli on rental deals; others said she solicited cash from them after they responded to her adoption ad, she said.
“It’s not just Charleston,” Cusack said.
It’s unclear if Martinelli saw her network debut. She remains behind bars at the Dorchester County jail, charged with four counts of obtaining money by false pretenses.
She is subject to felony property-crime enhancement penalties due to her criminal history, sheriff’s Lt. Tony Phinney said.
Phinney said Martinelli apparently is pregnant and receiving the appropriate maternity care at the jail.
Martinelli’s criminal record in South Carolina includes convictions for check fraud, breach of trust and driving under suspension, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Martinelli, who also goes by Bethany Russell and Bethany Guyton, also is wanted by the Horry County Sheriff’s Office for failure to appear on a stolen vehicle charge and the Denton County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office for felony theft of property, Brad Dorn of the U.S. Marshals Service has said.
It is unclear if any law enforcement agency is investigating Martinelli in connection with the adoption ad she placed.
Police in Charleston, where the meeting took place with “Dateline” producers, said they have received no complaints in connection with the case.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.