updated 9/17/2004 8:14:53 PM ET 2004-09-18T00:14:53

Ten female inmates in Pennsylvania jails and prisons have been indicted on charges they bilked more than 300 pen pals — mostly men — out of thousands of dollars by lying to them and promising long-term relationships.

Don Hart, one of the alleged victims, said he had been looking for friendship when he subscribed to the pen-pal service. He was contacted by Yvette Stewart, an inmate at the prison in Cambridge Springs serving out her sentence on third-degree murder charges. Stewart was among the women indicted Thursday.

At first the two sent each other letters and photos, said Hart, of Columbia City, Ind. Then, he said, she asked for money.

“I thought there was a slight possibility that this wasn’t safe, but never thought it was a ‘scam,”’ Hart said Friday.

According to the indictments, the women placed personal ads in tabloid magazines and on Web sites. When the men responded, the women often sent phony photos and told them they were to be released from prison soon, the indictments alleged.

Alleged victims, bilked out of nearly $260,000, were from around the nation, including Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wisconsin. The women were charged with mail fraud or conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

According to one indictment, seven of the women — not including Stewart — worked together in the scam.

It wasn’t clear Friday if Stewart, who allegedly defrauded 29 people out of more than $10,200, had an attorney.

Hart said he probably gave Stewart less than $100 and has written other inmates — though he’s not sure he’ll do so in the future. “I trust people, and I never thought there was anything wrong with that,” he said.

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