For many families, the choice to move a loved one into a senior living center is about being safer rather than living alone at risk of falls or worse. But few might suspect that while trying to actually protect their loved one, he or she is put at risk of a staff member who would prey on vulnerable residents.
Sadly, that seems to be exactly what happened in this case where a Birmingham, Alabama, senior living center worker is accused of going on a huge spending spree for years using a resident's bank accounts and credit cards. This month, an Alabama U.S. Attorney’s Office charged the employee with stealing more than $335,000 from the resident’s bank and credit accounts. Investigators say the scam ran for more than two years before the accused identity thief was finally caught.
The victim in this case had no immediate family, few visitors and an out-of-town friend who acted with power of attorney, but was not actively involved in the victim's daily care or finances. Court records indicate the employee befriended the victim and began helping her with transportation, errands, bill payments and other financial issues, and eventually gained trust along with access to the victim’s purse, mail, financial statements, checkbook, and debit and credit cards.
The senior center employee apparently maintained her relationship with the victim while working at the home as the victim’s mental and physical condition declined. The victim became incapable of managing her financial affairs, according to the charges. But besides helping the vulnerable victim, criminal charges accuse the former employee of helping herself hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, merchandise and trips.
As the victim's accounts were being drained, her so-called caregiver was on a spending spree. The fraud included writing more than $70,000 in unauthorized checks to herself and using one of the victim's credit cards for expenses including financing her own wedding, applying money to someone's prison account, making car and private school tuition payments, and taking trips to Las Vegas; Chicago; Tunica, Mississippi; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The accused thief used the victim’s checks for her own benefit, often forging her signature, and obtained a check/ATM card on her credit union account, according to the charges. The former employee used the checks and the debit card to obtain cash and to pay for goods and services worth more than $120,000, according to court filings. She also used the victim’s Chase Bank, State Farm Bank and Macy's Department Store credit cards for hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses and purchases, and paid portions of those bills with money from the victim's credit union account to continue the scheme.
In this case, it looks like the accused thief will pay for her deeds. Federal prosecutors charged the former employee with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in U.S. District Court. Prosecutors also filed a plea agreement in which the accused acknowledges the charges and agrees that she will plead guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. She also agrees to pay back the victim restitution of $335,214 and to pay a hefty fine of that same amount to the government.
The maximum prison penalty for bank fraud is 30 years. The penalty for aggravated identity theft is a mandatory two years in prison, which must be served after completion of any other prison sentence imposed for the crime.