A New Jersey woman pleaded guilty to money laundering for her involvement in a scheme with her sister and an attorney to steal millions of dollars from elderly clients of an in-home senior care company. A New Jersey State Police investigation led to the indictment of Sondra Steen along with her sister Jan Van Holt. The latter was the owner of a company that offered elderly clients in-home care and legal financial planning. Two other employees pleaded guilty to taking part in the scheme and stealing $125,000 from an elderly couple. Van Holt and Steen were charged with conspiring with a lawyer to steal over $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients.
Van Holt would target potential elderly clients who were known to have substantial assets with no immediate family. They would be offered help through the company with non-medical services such as running errands, managing finances, getting to appointments, and housework. Steen would then serve as the client's primary caregiver.
When they had gained the trust of these elderly clients, they would take control of their finances and add their names to bank accounts by forging power of attorney documents or using false pretenses to obtain control. They then stole from the accounts to pay their own expenses. If the victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account allegedly controlled by the defendants. The defendants would also name themselves as executors of the wills and then name Steen as a beneficiary. Authorities began investigating the alleged laundering after the state Office of the Public Guardian referred a case involving one of the victims to the State Police. Under a plea agreement, Steen pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering. Prosecutors are recommending a 10-year prison sentence as well as making restitution.
What lessons can we learned and what solutions can be applied in situations like this so that you can avoid this kind of exploitation. This is a scenario repeated across the country and the victims are not just the wealthy nor is it limited to just those of us without family. Sometimes, in an effort to retain our independence, we keep those closest to us ignorant of our finances and our health issues at a time when we should be courting their help. This is especially true if our children or relatives do not live nearby. As you can see from this story, it took a fiduciary, in this case a court-appointed conservator, to blow the whistle on the fraud. This is why I continually lecture on the wisdom of creating financial and medical powers of attorney. With these documents in place, this exploitation would likely have been impossible. Nor do I need to point out the importance of appointing only those who are loyal and trustworthy as your agents. As with most legal documents, powers of attorney are not a great DYI project; call our office to set up a complimentary consultation so that we might talk further about your unique circumstances. Give us a call at 757-259-0707.
Reference: New Jersey 101.5 (February 9, 2016) "NJ woman pleads guilty to scamming millions of dollars from the elderly"