Elbert Shawn Rice: The Strange, Twisted Saga of a Failed Bird Scammer
On June 23, Sharon Wells-Markland, who runs an exotic bird sanctuary in Montgomery County, found an uplifting e-mail in her inbox: A man contacted her about a lost macaw that Wells and three other women had rescued earlier that month.
Facebook screenshot. Houston, we have a d-bag. (Shawn Rice, above; Michael Acosta, seated).
The man was referred to Wells-Markland after spotting a picture of the bird on the Houston SPCA's found animals site. He identified himself as Shawn Rice, and he said the bird -- "Lucy" -- belonged to his mother, who was in Kentucky tending to her recently deceased mother's estate. He claimed his parents' home in Spring had been broken into, and that's how the bird got out. He said he wanted to pick up the bird, which is only worth about $500, according to one of the bird experts who got caught up in these events.
Wells-Markland had no way of knowing at the time that the man was a fugitive from Kentucky who would ultimately threaten to sue her and call the cops on her. Once Hair Balls got involved, Rice threatened to call the cops on us. He claimed to belong to a prominent, influential Houston family. He claimed to have a mutual friend who knew an executive with our parent company. The dude, it turned out, was straight-up weird. A bunch of people recently had to endure his incessant bullshit, and we would like you to do the same.
Shawn Rice is really 39-year-old Elbert Shawn Rice, who has an outstanding warrant from Perry County, Kentucky, on six counts of theft by deception. According to the indictment, he stole more than $3,000 of a man's Social Security disability payments. More on that later.
At this point, you might ask, "But Hair Balls, why should I care about a dude who tried to steal a bird?"
Fair question. Our answer is this: Although this man has an open warrant, it does not appear authorities in Kentucky want to deal with it. It's a nonviolent crime with a relatively low dollar amount, and it only involves one alleged victim. We asked officials at the Perry County Commonwealth Attorney's Office for information about Rice's charges and got nowhere. Messages left for the lead detective on that case were not returned, and the spokesman for that division of the Kentucky State Police wasn't interested in helping us. The KSP's lead communication officer told us that since the case was still open, we probably wouldn't be able to get much info, but he did tell us how to request a portion of it. (We're not sure how Rice's case can still be "open" in Kentucky -- after all, at no point did any law enforcement official ask us for Rice's number or address so they could ask local authorities to arrest him. Our messages to Detective Randy Combs, the Kentucky State Police official who testified before the grand jury in Rice's case, went unanswered. As long as the case remains open, authorities do not have to disclose details of the crime he's charged with.)
And it's not as if Rice was never on Houston authorities' radar: He was arrested in Houston in 2009 and pleaded guilty to theft of check after bailing on a cab driver. It's not clear if Houston police ran a warrant check and contacted Kentucky authorities, but the result was that, after three days in jail, Rice went on his merry way.
He is Houston's problem now. So that's why we'd like to get this on the record.
Through the Magnolia Exotic Birds Sanctuary, Wells is trying to save birds' lives. She's in the process of getting her 501(c)(3) and runs a bird-food business that supports the sanctuary.
When Rice contacted Wells about "Lucy" the macaw, he used an e-mail address with the prefix "natl.disablility," which is a misspelled version of a company Rice told us he operates, called National Disability Advocates. He told us he helps people get their benefits and insisted that one does not need to be an attorney to do such work.
He also used an e-mail address associated with the name "Sharlene Rice," who was identified as Rice's mother.
But Rice's mother, who spells her first name "Sharleen," told us the following: "He is a compulsive liar" and "He's a good scam artist." She told us that, even though she has been a victim of his schemes, "I love him, but I don't love and condone what he's doing." (On the other hand, Rice apparently believes his mother is a "sick demented person who needs help," according to a message from Rice that Sharleen shared with us.)