Locals craft true detective tale for television
Bellport High School alums and natives Joe Forbrich and Zach Towlen are in the midst of a sizzle reel for a television pilot pitch based on Forbrich’s Fort Lauderdale detective uncle, Joe Roubicek.
It’s a compelling premise. Roubicek wrote a book, “Financial Abuse of the Elderly: A Detective’s Case Files of Exploitation Crimes,” about cases that occurred during his stint working for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department in the early-1990s. Appalled by the numerous scammers who filched significant savings from trusting elderly citizens, Roubicek worked doggedly on these abuses, testifying in numerous criminal files and depositions, and the series is based on his experiences.
The time frame is 1994. Doubling for the Florida locales and shortening the name a bit, to “Rubicek,” scenes for this short, intro video were shot in Union Square and in an apartment in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Forbrich has lined up Chris McDonald, Maura Tierney, Trish Conolly, Rosemary Prinz and Lev Gorn for the leads. He plays his uncle.
Towlen, who shot the scenes with an Arri Amira camera, describes Roubicek as an anti-hero. “He can’t seem to get ahead,” he explained of the guy trying to protect an overlooked population.
Forbrich toured the police station his uncle worked at, ultimately meeting his fellow officers. “I’ve added some fictional aspects,” he said.
“He has one ally, the captain of the detectives,” Towlen said.
“But even he has secrets and motives of his own,” commented Forbrich.
They shot five scenes, directed by Towlen.
“One of the big aspects of this was a priest dipping into old ladies’ pockets while pretending to be poor,” Towlen said. It’s a true detail that’s included in one of the scenes; the priest got away with it.
Producer Stephanie Dawson, whose credits include “Hypothetically,” with Vincent Pastore, Mickey Sumner and Forbrich, as well a series on the People Entertainment Network called “American Doers,” said she was first drawn to the project because of Forbrich, who she’s known for a number of years.
“I believe Joe is wonderfully talented and wanted to work with him again,” Dawson said. “Once I read the script and was introduced to Zach, I was all in.”
Forbrich said he had heard about his uncle growing up, but didn’t meet him until the book came out in 2008; that inspired him to write it into a film. “To an extent, he was a pioneer, because he helped get laws changed in his state,” Forbrich said of his uncle, who experienced initial disinterest, witnessing scam artists getting away with their deceptions, legal frustrations, and the dissolution of his marriage in the process.
But as the crimes stacked up and lawmakers began to realize the impact, thanks to Roubicek’s efforts and eventually others, protective legislation began emerging. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico addressed financial exploitation of the elderly in the 2016 legislative session.
Roubicek currently heads up Roubicek Consulting Group. His website, exploitationelderly.net, offers resources on the subject; he’s been tapped for many articles and is also a speaker.
Towlen is a 2016 School of Visual Arts graduate.
The sizzle reel took two full days to shoot, Forbrich said.
“It’s something they use in the film industry,” Towlen explained. “You can show the look and performance instead of just reading the script. We took the highlights and will condense those into a two-minute overview.”
Forbrich, an actor and writer, has played numerous roles in television including “Law and Order,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “Blue Bloods” and “Conviction,” as well as the movie, “Bridge of Spies,” and as an understudy in Broadway’s “Lucky Guy” starring Tom Hanks, “The Front Page” and “The Crucible.” He has more than a few contacts in the industry.
They’re hoping to connect with a company like DreamWorks, HBO or a streaming network, or a major station.
“We want a show created by Joe,” said Towlen. “Then there is a team of writers and someone is the team captain.” Towlen would like to be involved in the writers’ room. “A lot of the time, writers become executive producers creating characters,” he said.
“We would negotiate what our jobs would be,” Forbrich said. Forbrich would like to play his uncle. The resemblance is striking.
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Story By: Linda Leuzzi – Long Island Advance – 06/15/17
Con Artists Have Snowbirds In Their Sights
Going south for the winter? Make sure to avoid these common scams
Article by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, October 2016
Going south for the winter? Make sure to avoid these common snowbird targeted scams.
Snowbird season kicks off this month, as millions of retirees migrate to warm-temperature states like Florida and Arizona. But while escaping the cold, they also weather more risks—at both locales.
“There’s a definite increase in scams against snowbirds, many by organized outfits that specifically focus on older, seasonal residents,” says Joe Roubicek, who spent 30 years investigating scams as a Fort Lauderdale police detective and investigator for the Florida State Attorney’s Office.
Secure your house. Set up timers for your lights. Ask a friend to stop by occasionally to ensure that everything is well lit and your driveway isn’t covered with snow or littered with penny-saver newspapers that aren’t held or forwarded by the post office.
Enlist a “What-If” contact. Roubicek suggests making a list of what could possibly go wrong—and whom you would call when it does. “What if you’re in an accident, are robbed at a rest stop or need medication?” he asks.
“The biggest mistake made by snowbirds is not proactively arranging for a back-home contact to help in emergencies.” Share your designee’s contact information with the local police department, plus your doctors, pharmacy and family members. To reduce the chance that you’ll need to call on the person, pack copies of prescriptions, important medical records and financial account numbers (all personal data should be stored in a safe place).
More On Scams:
Call your insurer. Before you take off, find out if you’ll need to take certain precautions to ensure full homeowner coverage—such as maintaining heat in your home at a specific temperature or shutting off the water supply and draining water from pipes and appliances. The good news: You might warrant a discount on auto insurance if you leave a car at home.
Notify payment-card providers as to when you will be leaving, where you are going and how long you’ll be away. This helps fraud departments stop bogus charges and reduces the risk of legitimate transactions being declined due to mistaken suspicion of unusual activity.
After You Arrive:
Stick with one credit card. This makes account monitoring easier, which is important when waiters physically handle your plastic and can capture card numbers with cellphone cameras or write them down with pen and paper. If fraudulent charges are made, you’re liable for only $50, but your card’s details could be used with other information to open new accounts under your identity.
Use Wi-Fi wisely. Public hot spots at libraries and coffee shops are no place to do online shopping or banking, or to check your investment portfolio. Unlike at home, where transmissions are encrypted between your computer and router, hot-spot hackers may be able to access log-in credentials, financial accounts and other sensitive data.
Know the most common snowbird scams:
Repair rip-offs – These reign supreme, notes Roubicek, author of Financial Abuse of the Elderly: A Detective’s Case Files of Exploitation Crimes. Saying “the condo association sent me,” fraudulent contractors and utility workers show up at your door. If you let them in, they may perform shoddy, overpriced repairs or scout a burglary. Beware of teams—one worker diverts you as the other steals—or exterminators who “accidentally” spray pesticide on you and, as you clean up, clean you out. Unless you initiate contact or the condo association gives prior notice, never let a stranger inside.
Parking lot ploys Crooks search for unlocked cars with out-of-state licenses plates and disable wires under the hood or flatten tires. When you return, they offer “help” for a ridiculous price.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.
RESPECT VS AGEISM
By Joe Roubicek
In 1939 the dark comedy play Arsenic and Old Lace opened on Broadway and became an immediate hit. The New York Times reviewer wrote that “It is so funny that none of us will ever forget it.”
Indeed. The plot involves two spinster aunts who lure lonely old men into their home to poison them with glasses of homemade elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and “just a pinch of” cyanide. Then their nephew, Teddy, (who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt) buries the bodies in the cellar. The ladies say that they are doing this “for charity.”
Playwright, Joseph Kesselring traced the inspiration for his black comedy to a notorious female serial killer named Amy Archer-Gilligan, who opened what may have been the first for- profit nursing home in the US. As the proprietor of “Sister Amy’s Nursing Home For The Elderly” of Windsor, Connecticut, she took in elderly boarders, then systematically poisoned them for their pensions.
In 1916, authorities dug up five of her victims in the “nursing home’s” backyard; they had all been poisoned by either arsenic or strychnine. A total of forty eight deaths occurred in Sister Amy’s nursing home over a five year period, which was twice the average rate in the home during prior years. And although all of the deaths were suspect, she was tried and convicted of just one count of murder due to the extended time delay in prosecution.
Therein lies fateful irony: a black farce, Arsenic And Old Lace, would be based on Sister Amy’s tragic, murderous deeds.
Arsenic And Old Lace is based on a notorious serial killer who murdered the elderly for profit. We make no connection to the plight of the elderly victims because the focus is on the killers. In this same sense, because society tends not to focus on the elderly, their victimization is largely ignored. Unless there is obvious evidence of foul play, law enforcement, the health care sector and society in general, have a tendency to believe that the elderly (versus other age groups) always die of natural causes. This often wrong assumption can be partially attributed to something called “ageism.”
Ageism is the tendency to perceive older persons in many negative ways, including being debilitated, unworthy of attention and “less alive.” When an older person forgets a name, they are senile. When a younger person forgets they are forgetful, or are having a “senior moment.”
Ageism perpetuates prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment of elders and psychological studies have found that it actually shortens the lifespans of elders.
Respecting our elders on the other hand, gives them longevity and brings us humility. A Yale University study found that those with positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer and moreover, older adults exposed to positive stereotypes have significantly better memory and balance. And how do we respect our elders? We can be patient, spend time, listen, tell them we love and appreciate them, and look for their wisdom because it’s there, say’s Mark Twain …
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
Florida Senate Passes Controversial “Predator on Predator” Bill. (Satire)
By Joe Roubicek
After heated debate, the Florida Senate has passed a bill allowing convicted predators of the elderly to voluntarily pose as bait in order to trap and then euthanize nuisance alligators in Florida’s Loxahatchee Wildlife Reserve.
“This will of course be only on a voluntary basis.” reiterated Senator Howard, (R-Miami), the bill’s lead sponsor. “The prisoners will be fully trained and in turn, receive a reasonable reduction in their sentences. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
The bill – SB0174 – which is entitled “Predator on Predator,” passed by a slim margin and must still be passed by the House of Representatives before becoming law.
Debate on the floor became particularly heated when Senator Randy Bullard, (D-Brevard), asserted that the law would essentially “legalize animal cruelty: “I don’t care if they are predators without conscience. Why are we killing the alligators?”
The bill states in part:
A habitual offender convicted of aggravated exploitation of an elderly person may:(a) Pay a fine of $500,000, or
(b) Double the value of the pitching unitary gain, or
(c) Be presented, on a voluntary basis only, as bait to lure and entice nuisance alligators in the state’s Loxahatchee Wildlife Reserve.
John Mahoney, director of the state’s alligator management program, said that this would be a blessing for his department: “We lost 3 employees to gators over the last 5 years, one of them being my cousin. God bless Senator Howard for introducing this bill. He reminds me of Donald Trump.”
The bill must still be voted on and passed by Florida’s House of Representatives before becoming law. Stay tuned.
(Kurt Stone of our Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this article.)
RICH GRANDMA, POOR GRANDMA
By Joe Roubicek
How badly would you like to win the lottery?
Gertrude Townsend, an 87-year-old woman from the “bad part of town,” went from rags to riches when she won 2.68 million dollars in the Florida Lottery. Her family held her hostage while stealing the spoils and attorneys battled for guardianship on her dime, to determine who would control the fortune.
Mark Twain said history does rhyme and nest eggs are still wiped out by pretentious “do-gooders.” Poor Grandma!
Lotto Grandma Lives In Poverty, Feels Heartbreak
August 15, 1998|By TESSIE BORDEN Staff Writer
FORT LAUDERDALE — Winning $2.68 million in the Florida Lottery did nothing to improve 87-year-old Gertrude Townsend’s life.
On Thursday morning, that grandson, Eric Jones, was arrested as he tried to cash a $650 check in Townsend’s name at the NationsBank branch at 1300 Southeast 17th St. Police charged Jones, 25, with grand theft, passing a forged check and financial exploitation of the elderly.
“She’s technically a millionaire,” said Fort Lauderdale Detective Joe Roubicek. “But her phone is getting turned off. She’s living in squalor.”
Along with Roubicek, investigators from Adult Protective Services are looking into Townsend’s treatment and providing support services for her.
Roubicek said Townsend called the bank on Thursday morning “to complain that her grandchildren were stealing her money” and asking that they flag her account.
When Jones came into the bank, an employee called Townsend’s house. She told him she did not sign any check.
But she pleaded with the employee not to get her grandson in trouble.
The employee called Roubicek, who visited Townsend’s ramshackle Northwest 27th Avenue home and lost no time in determining that the disabled woman had severe short-term memory loss.
She did not remember the morning call to the bank.
In the meantime, Jones was booked into the Broward County Jail.
Police records show he was arrested in March on charges of cocaine possession and driving with a suspended license. There is also a 1993 arrest for driving without a license and two arrests as a juvenile for armed robbery.
Roubicek is barred by law from releasing Townsend’s name. But records and neighbors confirmed her identity.
A woman who identified herself as Townsend’s daughter, but refused to give her name, said Jones’ arrest was a misunderstanding.
“He wasn’t taking any money,” she said. “He was going to pay bills.”
But Roubicek said since the arrest, he has uncovered the following:
- A nearly empty bank account and stacks of bill collector notices, despite yearly payments to Townsend since 1992 of $96,480. Her lottery luck even made the news. A short item in the Sun-Sentinel’s 1992 Christmas Eve edition named her as the winner of half of a $5.36 million jackpot.
- An effort in the works, through a company called Stone Street Capital, to turn Townsend’s remaining winnings into a lump-sum payment.
- A previous neglect complaint involving the victim, after which a Broward judge assigned her an emergency guardian.
Roubicek said the investigation is showing that even though the lottery cash was going into Townsend’s account, several people have been cashing checks and making withdrawals of hundreds of dollars, all in the woman’s name.
“There was a daily outflow of checks,” Roubicek said. “The account’s about empty.”
Records show several people, including Eric Jones and Johnnie Jones, another grandson, live at Townsend’s home. Roubicek said Johnnie Jones said he was living at the house because he just got out of prison for drug trafficking.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show a long list of arrests going back to 1988, for charges ranging from loitering and prowling to trafficking in cocaine and hallucinogens.
According to police reports, Eric Jones said in a taped statement that he was managing Townsend’s financial assets and had contacted Stone Street to get a loan payment for the money remaining in Townsend’s lottery payoff.
Jones reportedly told Roubicek his grandmother wanted all the money now “because she knew she did not have much longer to live.”
Stone Street refused to confirm the move. An employee said it is company policy to keep all client dealings confidential. But the company does specialize in restructuring timed payments from lottery winnings and civil judgments into lump-sum payouts.
Roubicek said a judge once ruled Townsend incompetent to make her own decisions and assigned a guardian. But the family hired an attorney to try to have her ruled competent.
Emilio Maicas, program supervisor for Adult Protective Services, said his agency normally takes the complaint and asks the court to bring in a guardian, but closes the case once it determines the person is getting the services needed. He said he could not comment on Townsend’s case.
Roubicek said the investigation is ongoing, and he expects more arrests in the case.
“It appears this is the tip of the iceberg of what’s been going on for the past five years,” he said. “We took care of yesterday’s check. Now we look at what happened in the past.”
ANYTHING FOR MONEY: A PREDATOR’S TALE
By Joe Roubicek
Ina hated that incessant ringing as she lay in bed with her bedroom light on in the middle of the night. I’m 93 years old, for God’s sake, she thought. I can’t take this anymore. With a trembling hand she picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
Heavy breathing, then cries and screams. “Aaaaaggg help! Aaauughhh!” It sounded as if someone were being tortured.
“Who is this?” … Silence … “Leave me alone!”
More heavy breathing.
Ina hung up the phone and unplugged it from the wall.
Next morning, she washed, made her coffee, and returned to the bedroom to plug the phone back in, something she had done every day for the past week. But no sooner had she plugged it back in when it began ringing. Since it was daytime and the nuisance calls only came in at night, she answered the phone.
“How are you this morning?”
Ina recognized the Caribbean accent of Sharon Wilcox, a woman she had recently employed. In fact, she had expected the call.
“What do you want?” Ina asked.
“I need more money, Ina.”
“I’ve already given you plenty of money, Sharon. It’s time you left me alone.”
“You know, Ina, I still have the key to your garage. You mustn’t make me use it.”
“This is the last time, so you better stop calling me.”
“I’ll need $500,” Sharon said.
“And then you’ll leave me alone?”
“I promise. I’ll stop by this afternoon to drop off your key and say goodbye, okay?”
Ina agreed and Sharon Wilcox, her former devoted caretaker, came to the house that afternoon, picked up a $500.00 check, returned Ina’s garage key, a key that ultimately already had cost Ina $2,000 to retrieve it.
Maybe the calls would stop. Maybe Ina could have some peace.
Extortion is a cruel business. One person threatens another to force the victim to do something against his or her will, often for some type of financial gain. Call it oppression for profit, a form of elderly exploitation because the victim and culprit are initially brought together by the victim’s disability. In Ina’s case, that disability was a broken wrist.
Until that injury, Ina had been an independent and mentally sharp woman in good physical condition. But showering and cooking meals one-handed would be difficult for a person of any age, much less a 93 year old. So Ina decided to hire a daytime helper to enable her to remain at home during her recovery. Sharon Wilcox, a 38-year-old home health aide became her assistant.
After three months, Ina’s wrist had healed and she no longer needed assistance, but when she gave Sharon the news, along with two weeks’ severance pay, the young woman became belligerent. Before leaving, she demanded and received an additional $500.00 because Ina just wanted to get her out of the house.
Several hours later, Sharon called to say that she still had one of Ina’s front door keys. She demanded another $500.00 and Ina paid her. But Sharon Wilcox planned no end to this extortion and the night time calls began. Eerie screams, cries, and animal noises were followed by calls the following morning for yet more money.
Meantime, a neighbor noticed that Ina’s behavior had changed. The sweet old woman had stopped going on morning walks, tinkering in her yard, and picking up the daily newspaper from the driveway. After dark, her house lights were out, but her bedroom light remained on throughout the night. When the neighbor prodded Ina for an explanation, she finally confided in him and agreed to call the police.
Troubled by the apparent extortion of an elderly woman, the police officer who responded phoned me directly and asked me to come to the house. I decided that it seemed fair to use the phone against Wilcox since she had used the phone to torment Ina. A voice-activated recorder was attached to Ina’s phone and the phone company put a trace on the line to verify the location of all incoming calls. I wrote down a few basic questions for Ina to ask Sharon Wilcox, questions such as “How much do you want?” and “What will you do if I don’t pay you?”
Ina sat on the bed reviewing the questions while I plugged the recorder into the phone with a double-jack device. Within the hour, Sharon Wilcox called.
The following is a transcript from that call.
“Hello Ina, listen here, I’m going crazy. I really need a job, I can’t find a job.”
“Well Sharon, you always told me it would be easy to get one. I’m sorry but I can’t do anything more to help you. I’ve been stripped of money and I gave you all the money that I have.”
“Oh, come on now, Ina, you got money.”
“Well, just what is it that you want me to do?”
“All that I want you to do is to give me more money to help me pay some of my bills.”
“I can’t help you to pay your bills anymore.” Silence.
I was listening to Ina’s end of the conversation and now I pointed to the questions that I had written out for her. Poor Ina was doing a good job, but she wasn’t an actress and read the questions robotically from the sheet.
“Tell me how much you want?”
“How much do I want? How much can you afford to give me, Ida?”
Ina repeated, “Tell me how much you want?”
There was silence for a few seconds. Wilcox hesitated and then replied,
“I said whatever you can afford to give me, Ina.”
Ina became nervous and read directly from the sheet again.
“How much do you want and … What will you do if I don’t pay you?”
“If you don’t pay me? What are you trying to get at, Ina? What are you up to?”
Ina’s hands were shaking noticeably now.
“I just want to end this thing, the torment that you’re putting me through.”
“Ina, you know something? I’m not dumb, okay? And you’re trying to set me up and that’s not going to work, okay?”
Wilcox hung up.
It looked as if this was not going to be the “slam dunk” case it first appeared to be. As I started to explain this to Ina, the phone rang again. It was Wilcox.
“Hello, Ina? Listen here, my car’s not working so here’s what you’re going to do. Mail me another $500.00, okay? That’s the way we’ll do it.”
Wilcox took the bait after all. Despite suspecting that she was being set up, her greed got the better of her, and now we had enough evidence to justify taking her into custody.
The rest is elementary, as they say. Wilcox was arrested the following day for grand theft and extortion. As we placed her in handcuffs, she cried like a baby – all the way to the county jail.
The most important element of this case, besides quick police intervention, was Ina’s neighbor’s reaction to her changed behavior as well as Ina’s own willingness to stand up for herself when given the opportunity. Looking out for our neighbors is not only police business, but also the business of all of us who refuse to close our eyes to exploitative crimes against some of our most vulnerable citizens – the elderly.
“No man is an Island.” John Donne
SHANGHAID FOR PROFIT
By Joe Roubicek
“Shanghai” refers to a time when sailors were taken either by force, the use of drugs, or liquor. This case is about someone shanghaied by a predator and the health care system, while it prevails today in a different form called “Isolate, Medicate and Take the Estate.”
It was New Year’s Day, 1991 when Christine Cobb, a 64-year-old retired postal worker, cried with relief. This was her first day of freedom from the Broward General Hospital’s psychiatric ward. She had been drugged, sedated and under observation after being committed using a Florida law called the “Baker Act,” which allows a person who may be dangerous to him/herself or others be held involuntarily for 72 hours.
Her problems began two months earlier when she moved into an unlicensed adult living facility (ALF). Just a one-story house owned and operated by 29-year-old Jennifer Smith, a former employee of the state’s Adult Protective Services agency who was very familiar with the procedures that regulated group homes in Florida. Before that, she was a bank teller with a good understanding of check-cashing procedures. She appeared to be a polite and pleasant woman, but Christine found otherwise.
Jennifer Smith began by stealing Christine’s purse and reporting to police that both of their purses, identifications and checkbooks, had been stolen. She lied about having her own identification stolen because as a former bank employee, she believed that she could still use her identification to cash stolen checks while claiming the “thief” had done it.
When Christine Cobb demanded her purse be returned, Smith insisted that she was imagining things, or delusional. Christine was outraged!
The nightmare worsened. After Christine served her purpose, she was handcuffed and led away to the psychiatric ward by police, because Jennifer Smith had Baker Acted her. Christine cried foul, infuriated with Smith and her lies, but no one would listen. The more upset she became, the more they restrained and drugged her and eventually she became despondent.
While Christine was drugged and confined, Smith began forging and cashing the victim’s checks for over $10,000. Smith used her own identification, confident that she could later insist that the thief who had stolen her ID had cashed the checks but ironically, the same bank tellers she once worked with identified her for police.
For unknown reasons, Christine was held for observation for 30 days instead of the customary 3 days. Healthcare workers later admitted there never was any basis for committing her while the state of Florida (the taxpayers) paid for Christine’s hospital stay.
Eventually, Jennifer Smith was arrested and lost her precious freedom. But she was presumed innocent until found guilty … unlike Christine Cobb, who was presumed to be mentally ill and had to prove otherwise to win back her freedom.
Much like the shanghaied sailors, the elderly can still be drugged and abducted into nursing homes while their estates are emptied by predators. NASGA is a reputable national organization with one primary mission … “To protect the civil/human rights – life, liberty and property – of vulnerable persons described as “incompetent” and made wards of the state in unlawful and abusive guardianships and conservatorships.”
Visit their site for an eye-opening experience of modern-day abductions.
Senior-home Operator Charged With Theft
May 17, 1991|By KEVIN DAVIS, Staff Writer
A former state social worker who operated an unlicensed home for senior citizens was arrested on Thursday on charges that she depleted a client`s bank account and left her at a hospital, saying she was a mental patient. Click here to read the entire article.
THE CRIMINAL “CIVIL MATTER.”
By Joe Roubicek
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Mark Twain
January 1991 –
The house was perfect for this sting operation, unoccupied and up for sale by an owner kind enough to lend it out for a couple of days. The most important feature about this house was its plumbing, which happened to be in excellent condition. It had to be for the whole case could … Well, go down the toilet.
A 75-year-old woman, an actress provided by chief LaGraves of the prosecutor’s office, was wearing a hidden microphone, sat patiently on a couch in the living room waiting for the doorbell to ring. Soon she would be presenting herself as a poor, frail and confused old lady, just ready for the taking.
Our technical unit had set up a video camera that spied on the exterior east wall of the house from inside a neighbor’s home. A detective was parked a half block up the road, waiting to give the signal when the suspect arrived, and three more detectives sent by the camera and the neighbor’s house. Two patrolmen cruised a couple blocks away, ready if called upon, and a special prosecutor, Mark Springer, stood by his desk for progress reports. The bait was set, everyone just waiting for the suspect to arrive.
He was considered a figurehead in a tunneling fraud operation that had burned victims for tens of thousands of dollars each. His real tools weren’t a shovel or backhoe – they were deception and extortion. Michael Angove, or “Mike The Plumber,” was known to dig a mountain of dirt for a mountain of cash that he demanded from elderly homeowners, using their limited mobility and dependency on others against them.
Dorothy Darling, an 80-year-old disabled woman, was one of those victims. She called for a plumber because her toilet made a constant leaking noise. She didn’t know that the plumbing was actually in good condition. A “leaking flapper,” the small rubber piece that keeps the water in the tank, could have been easily fixed with a $10 repair kit.
After Angove of A Aachen Plumbing in Fort Lauderdale checked it out though,
he left Dorothy’s bathroom and went to his truck to begin a very different type of repair. He grabbed a shovel and dug a one-foot-deep hole by the side of the woman’s house, filling the hole with water from the garden hose. Then Angove walked the woman outside to see the puddle and explained that the water had seeped up when he tried to locate the drain pipe. He said that a tunnel would have to be dug beneath the house until the leak was located and repaired. Of course he didn’t know how big the job would be, but with some luck it could be finished the same day.
The next day, Angove showed up with eight day laborers who began to tunnel beneath the homes foundation. Some would dig while others moved the dirt with wheelbarrows to the growing pile on the front lawn. Some just sat around but they got no beef about their laziness from Angove-their mere presence brought $20 an hour per head in billing.
They dug for two weeks until a virtual mountain had been created in the victim’s front yard, the residue of a 60-foot tunnel that stretched beneath her house, weakening its foundation. By this time, the victim already had paid $52,000 and the job wasn’t finished. Still, Angove gave no indication of letting up on his new victim.
Dorothy eventually grew suspicious and reached out desperately to government regulators – the Department of Professional Regulation as well as city code and licensing officials – but they had told her that she had a civil dispute over services. She would have to pursue Angove through litigation. A criminal investigation was unlikely, they had explained, because work was provided for the money and there was no evidence to indicate that the broken pipes were, in fact, never really broken. Angove had already disposed of them. Besides, someone still had to replace all that dirt – or maybe even fix the pipe if necessary.
Dorothy Darling and many other elderly victims finally got a break when Angove argued with his foreman and then abruptly fired him. When I heard about the dismissal and talked with the foreman about his activities with A Aachen Plumbing, he flipped on Angove for revenge.
With immunity for his part in the scam, the foreman gave detailed sworn testimony about the operation, including a full explanation about how he or Angove actually broke holes in the homeowner’s underground pipes in case a city inspector happened by the job site. He identified many elderly victims, recalling that Angove chose senior citizens because they were easier to deceive and intimidate. He said his former boss has laughed at these trusting folks behind their backs.
A 91-year-old lady had been hit the prior week for $6,000, her life savings. An 87-year-old physician had paid $75,000, and suffered a lien for another $90,000, for a tunnel job beneath an office building that he owned. The informant said that Angove’s was not the only operation like this in South Florida and that the scam had been prevalent in the area for years. Indeed, it turned out to be a multimillion dollar operation.
A background check on Angove revealed that he had an extensive criminal history so this case ended up on the desk of a “career criminal” prosecutor, Mark Springer, who handles only cases where convictions will bring long prison terms. This prosecutor had conceived the sting operation to strengthen his case for trial.
Before we set that trap for Angove, the house was first inspected by a master plumber to verify that the plumbing was in good condition. Then the toilet was rigged with a leaky flapper. The elderly “victim,” an actress with a sense of adventure and a get-tough attitude towards crime, had volunteered her services. She was instructed to present the “leaky toilet” scenario to Angove and allow him to suggest the solution.
On the day of the sting, Angove drove up to the house in a white van without markings. Several day laborers sat in the back of the van. I and other detectives watched and listened from the neighbor’s house as he knocked on the front door and was invited inside. Our planted “victim” explained her leaking toilet problem to Angove and he quickly inspected it while the two engaged in casual conversation. But soon enough, he took the bait.
“You know there is something that I would like to check outside, Mrs. Williams,” he told her. “You stay here and relax and I’ll be right back.”
Our video camera recorded Angove walking out to the east wall of the house, picking up the garden hose and running water on the ground by the wall. He calmly replaced the hose and went back inside.
“Mrs. Williams, I’m afraid that I may have found the problem. Could you come outside for a moment please?”
He brought her to the side of the house and knelt down by the wet ground.
“You see this water? See those ants going up into that crack in the wall there? Ants are attracted to water. You’ve got a leak in your main pipe somewhere beneath the house. We’re going to have to dig a hole right about here and follow the pipe until we get to the leak. We’ll patch it up and put in some new pipe and then you’ll be all set.”
“Oh dear, can you fix it? How big of a job is this going to be?”
Angove completely fell for her performance and our actress appeared to be enjoying turning the tables on this con man.
“I really don’t know, it depends where the break is,” he replied. “If you’re lucky it will be relatively close to the wall and we can wrap the job in a day. I have to go to another job right now, but we can write up a work order for you to sign and get started first thing in the morning.”
She thanked him and signed.
For the woman’s safety, we waited until Angove drove away before the patrol units pulled him over and took him into custody for first-degree grand theft. Once in an interview room with me, he laughed and became belligerent, insisting that I arrested him for a civil matter. He still didn’t know that his foreman had flipped against him, or that he had been under recorded surveillance.
Angove was ultimately convicted and sent to prison for several years. As part of a plea deal, he assisted in closing down other tunneling operations throughout South Florida.
The philosopher Vernon Howard said, “The terrible immoralities are the cunning ones hiding behind masks of morality, such as exploiting people while pretending to help them.”
To an exploiter, there is no boundary to greed. No line he won’t cross, no rule of behavior he honors. While some exploit opportunistically, others literally make it their business. They victimize the elderly under the guise of providing a legitimate professional service.
This case is an example of what still happens in different types of home improvement, to people of all ages. It identifies exactly what the state must prove to make this civil matter a criminal case … deception and malicious intent by the perpetrator.
Plumber Helps Police On Fraud Cases
May 12, 1991|By BOB KNOTTS, Staff Writer
Click on the graphic below to read the entire story by Bob Knotts about the arrest of Angrove.
THE PREDATORY BANK TELLERS
By Joe Roubicek
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Mark Twain
Let’s begin with this Sun Sentinel blurb on Ganesh Viswanathan, a bank teller I arrested for fraud back in 1989.
2 Charged With Forgery
October 12, 1989|Staff reports
FORT LAUDERDALE — A couple were arrested on Wednesday on charges of forging checks worth $14,380 from a bank where the husband was employed, police said.
Arrested on theft and forgery charges were Ganesh Viswanathan and his wife, Patricia, both 24, of the 5600 block of Northeast Second Terrace.
Detective Joseph Roubicek said the couple forged and cashed two checks for themselves from the North Ridge Bank, where Ganesh Viswanathan was a teller. Both of the suspects have been fired from at least two other local banks, police said.
Now here’s what really happened in that case …
A bookkeeper for a Fort Lauderdale business went to the North Ridge Bank on a Friday to do the company payroll. It was routine, or at least that’s what she thought. Weeks later, she was facing arrest for embezzling money from her employer. She appeared to have cashed thousands of dollars in counter checks, along with the regular payroll and the evidence implicating her was overwhelming:
- Forged counterchecks where uttered and time stamped in unison with her regular payroll.
- She was on video standing at the counter during the transactions.
- The bank manager initialed each countercheck, along with the teller’s initials, confirming the transactions by the bookkeeper.
It appeared the bookkeeper had tried to conceal the theft by mixing the counterchecks in with the regular payroll checks, a common method used by dirty bookkeepers.
But she didn’t do it.
The teller, Ganesh Viswanathan, knew the bookkeepers weekly payroll routine. He forged the counterchecks, ready to be processed along with the regular payroll. The bank manager initialed the checks because she saw the bookkeeper standing there at the counter. The dirty teller knew the evidence would indict the bookkeeper and it almost did.
But when I went to the home of Ganesh the teller, a family member with a very visible scar across her neck answered the door. This is when I recalled that, on the bank video the woman standing directly behind the bookkeeper in the teller’s line was wearing a scarf – unusual for south Florida’s climate. That scarf had been covering this woman’s scar. I realized she was the teller’s accomplice. Her job was to get the stolen cash out of the bank. Brilliant… But they still went to jail.
Mark Twain is correct. History certainly does “rhyme” and predatory bank tellers are still very active as you can see in the following suggested readings. The elderly are the prime targets, but anybody is fair game.
LOVE AND MERCY: Brian Wilson’s Corrupt Guardianship
By Joe Roubicek June 2015
LOVE AND MERCY has finally been released, a story of how the gifted Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys became a middle aged “broken, confused man under the pharmacological and legal thrall of therapist Dr. Eugene Landy,” as the critics put it.
Take away the status and unique qualities of Brian Wilson and you are left with the typical scenario of corrupt guardianships that are going on all around us every day.I would highly recommend this movie, but PLEASE read the following excerpts from “Guardian Angels Inc. The Vile Business Of Corrupt Guardianship.” so that you might appreciate the consistency in methodology of these culprits.
On Corrupt Guardianship
Similarly, despite the original intent of guardianship — to protect the life of the ward while preserving the ward’s assets – it too has often become corrupted to the point where the ward is silenced without legitimate legal representation. Then, like the “Trojan Horse” of Greek mythology,, attorneys and guardians use the ruse of good intent “in the best interest and well-being of the ward,” to attack and plunder estates while victims are isolated, taken hostage, drugged, imprisoned and even murdered. Their estates are either brazenly stolen, or quietly depleted through a pretentious process of “servicing” the guardianship. When paid by the hour, these professionals make more by working at solving problems than by actually solving them. This corrupt process has been identified by activists as, “Isolate, Medicate and Take the Estate.”
On Antipsychotic Drugs
Just as the “Aunties” of Arsenic and Old Lace murdered their victims with arsenic and strychnine, today’s “poisons-of-choice” are second generation anti-psychotic drugs. Under the guise of “normalizing” dementia patients in nursing homes, Olanzapine (Zyprexa), Aripiprazole (Abilify), Risperidone (Risperal), and Quetiapine (Seroquel, Xeroquel, Ketipinor) are administered to hundreds of thousands of “unruly” elderly patients on a daily basis — this despite the FDA’s repeated warnings that these drugs are killing them.
In other words, hundreds of thousands of elderly patients are sedated on a daily basis. Although these drugs are often referred to as “chemical restraints,” there FDA-approved use is for treating schizophrenics, even though they are more often prescribed as a cost-effective way of managing elderly patients with “behavioral difficulties,” a term open to interpretation.
On Psychopaths as Legal Guardians
An expert on psychopathy, Robert D. Hare, PhD, believes it is a myth that most psychopaths are murderers. In his book, “Without Conscience, The Disturbing World of The Psychopaths Among Us,” he writes:
“Not surprisingly, many psychopaths are convicted criminals, but many others remain out of prison, using their charm and chameleon-like abilities to cut a wide swath through society and leaving a wake of ruined lives behind them …we are far more likely to lose our life savings to an oily-tonged swindler than our lives to a steely-eyed killer.”
Hare’s message is that although a psychopath is capable of murder, it is their distaste for the consequences of the act — not their conscience — which discourages them from committing the murder..
Experts estimate that a significant 1% to 4% of the general population is made up of psychopaths who would be drawn to the elderly population for their acquired assets, high vulnerability, and the low probability of getting caught by an overtaxed government.
Imagine 4% of the people around you suffering a mental disorder, wanting your assets as you become increasingly vulnerable due to the natural process of aging. Now imagine that same 4% as legal guardians of the elderly.
“Imagine socio-psychopaths and serial killers walking among us with psychotropic drugs, killing off the elderly for profit. Imagine paying your “Aunt Emily” a surprise visit to find that she had been abducted by a professional guardian…and you do not have visitation rights. Imagine yourself in their place one day unless something changes.
The next time you see an elderly person sitting in a wheelchair on the front porch of your local nursing home, go ahead and wonder how they got there… Are they resting serenely, or do they appear stupefied by a drug? Are their assets secure, or in the process of being stolen? Do they even have assets anymore?”
Thanks for reading. Now go enjoy the movie. Joe Roubicek
(PS: Hi Merck And Co. Inc.)
Summary of a case involving a little guy with a big mouth arrested for exploitation of the elderly…and then solicitation to commit murder.
Sami Jourdak was a 71-year-old vertically challenged person with an irritating high voice and he sure talked a lot. The first time we met, he reminded me of some of the small, talky characters played by the actor Joe Pesci, but with white hair. He seemed harmless enough, though, and there was something sad about the guy.
Our paths crossed when he exploited a 94-year-old blind woman named Hillary. She was alert, trusting and courageous in many ways.
At the time, the two recently had met at her church and quickly developed what seemed a mutually beneficial friendship. He would take her out to lunch a few times a week and she would pay. He was tight on money and she loved to get out of her house, so it worked out quite well. It all seemed harmless enough.
But looks were deceiving and Jourdak was a dangerous man. Twelve years earlier he had been arrested and convicted for sexual assault on a child and spent two years in prison for that crime. This apparently harmless old man with the non-stop squeaky voice was a predator.
When they went out to lunch, Jourdak was slipping Hillary’s ATM card from her purse, making withdrawals, then replacing it without her knowing. It was too easy.
But after two weeks and more than $5,000 in withdrawals, Hillary’s home health aide caught Jourdak sneaking the ATM card back into the purse. When the aide approached him about it, he became very threatening and assured her that if she spoke to Hillary, she would regret it.
Instead, the aide went to the police and I became involved.
When I first approached Hillary, she was not only emotionally hurt but also angry that Jourdak had violated her trust. She agreed to wear a “wire,” a secret recording device that all cop-and-crime movies seem to include for some reason. Hillary said she would question him about the money when he came to visit her the following day.
Jourdak arrived right on time expecting to take Hillary to lunch, but instead she confronted him about his theft. My partner and I listened to the conversation from inside an unmarked police car parked in the neighbor’s driveway.
When confronted by Hillary, Jourdak admitted everything, but insisted that he took her money so that no one else could. He claimed that he was only trying to protect her. His defense was lame, we moved in and he was arrested.
I thought that this case had ended, but Jourdak had other ideas…..
He was furious at the home health aide because he suspected that she had tipped off the police. So he wanted her dead, just as he had threatened.
This time, Jourdak was more than all talk.
Jourdak’s cellmate was a “tough guy,” so to speak. He was someone with a violent background related to drugs and weapons violations. So Jourdak approached him about hiring a hit man to kill the home health aide for a few thousand dollars.
Jourdak said that, with the witness out of the way, he could both get revenge and probably beat the charges against him. His cellmate said that he would see what he could do.
Less than two weeks later, after Jourdak had bonded out of jail, he met with a stranger at a diner in Fort Lauderdale. His cellmate indeed had arranged a rendezvous with a hired killer.
The hit man was a big, sleazy-looking middle-aged man who dwarfed Jourdak’s small body. Jourdak spent a full hour with him and wouldn’t stop talking, of course. That was his nature. He said that he wanted the health aide killed and didn’t care how. He also explained that he had been taking Hillary’s ATM card and everything had been going just fine until the aide had butted in and ratted him out to the police.
In the end, Jourdak agreed to pay $3,000, but only after the killing. The hit man said that he wanted the money before the murder. Jourdak agreed and they went their separate ways, planning to meet the next day to exchange the payment.
Jourdak drove home to his apartment, but the hit man drove to the rear parking lot of the diner where the rest of us had been listening from behind tinted windows in unmarked cars. The hit man was actually an ATF agent and I, along with several other detectives and agents, had been monitoring the meeting from the start.
Sami Jourdak simply was a victim of very bad luck. His cellmate was a tough guy all right, but also a confidential informant for an ATF agent. He had reported Jourdak’s intentions to his agent, who in turn had called me.
Those of us working the case decided that it would be prudent to arrest Jourdak quickly. I found him on that same day in his apartment complex doing his dirty laundry.
I arrested him again, this time for solicitation to commit murder. He cried like a baby when he was loaded into the back seat of a squad car and carried off to jail.
The hit man in this case had been an impostor, yes – but so was Jourdak, and he gave perfect example of how predators who appear completely harmless can be the most dangerous predators of all.
by Joe Roubicek, copyright 2010 Coral Springs
So What is Financial Exploitation?
In a sentence, Florida’s exploitation law (FSS 825.103) states that when someone maliciously takes the property of an “elderly person,” they are committing exploitation. That’s the essence of the law.
But there is also an important requirement: Within this law, an “elderly person” is defined as someone 60 years of age or older who is suffering from the infirmities of aging to the extent that their ability to adequately care for and protect themselves is impaired. The law states that the elderly person must suffer a physical or mental infirmity. Therefore, exploitation is based primarily on infirmities or disabilities and not deception.
This is why exploitation is not fraud and why it can be much more devastating and offensive. Fraud is generally defined as deception that is carried out for the purpose of achieving personal gain while causing injury to another party. Exploitation requires more than that. It requires that the victims suffer disabilities that make them more vulnerable. And when the victim is more vulnerable, the victim impact is far worse.
To compare exploitation to fraud would be like comparing robbery to larceny. If you told a police officer that robbery is the worst type of larceny, he or she would correct you and say that they are two different crimes. Larceny simply means the taking of another’s property, while robbery requires the taking by force or threat. In the same sense, exploitation and fraud are also two different crimes. While scammers focus on things that their victims want with deception, exploiters focus on things victims need through the dependency caused by their infirmities.
So if you’re going to walk away with one thought from my book, make it this,
“Scammers prey on greed while exploiters prey on need.”
If you understand that concept, you’re probably one step ahead of those around you who misunderstand the crime.
Exploitation by The Mailman:
Originally Posted on January 2010:
* Important note for the reader: I wrote this “short” case file in 2004 but did not publish it in my book. For this reason I changed only the names of all parties involved. But the case is factual, based on public record, and all excerpts from suspect statements are quite accurate. ~Joe Roubicek ~
Exploitation by the Mailman:
“How long have you been a mailman?”
“And how long have you known Jenny Williams?”
He shifted in his seat.
“The entire time. I comforted her through the death of her husband several years ago and been her companion since.”
“So then you spend a lot of time with her?”
“Detective, I spend time with her every single day, even holidays. We are very close.”
I leaned forward from my chair toward the table that separated us and pointed at him for effect.
“Martin Feinberg said that you’re a liar and he’s been her friend and accountant for forty years. You’re a thief who’s taking advantage of a 90-year-old woman.”
I was more aggressive with Mike Steele, a 35-year-old postal worker, because I knew that he was less likely to clam-up, fearing the loss of his job if the postal inspectors found out. He didn’t know that a postal inspector turned him in.
“Detective, he paid her bills for her and that’s it. Sometimes I would come by after he left and she’d be visibly shaken. I don’t know why but she didn’t like him and wanted me to handle her business affairs. You wonder about me? I’m wondering about Martin Feinberg. I mean did he use undue influence on her?”
As expected, Mike Steele was getting defensive and talking away. He pushed a pile of paperwork on the table toward me and continued.
“Look, I’ve got stuff. These are the originals. Does he have stuff?” The “stuff” that he was referring to were the usual testamentary documents that exploitation suspects parade during statements; a power of attorney, a quit claim deed, and a new will making the suspect the sole beneficiary of the estate. This particular victim, Jenny Williams, suffered Organic Brain Syndrome for years and I had the medical records to prove it. Steele was acquainted with Jenny and her husband over the years and became very friendly with her after his death.
Only two months before giving his statement, Steele had his name placed on all of Jenny’s bank accounts in place of Mertin Feinberg’s, and she signed a new will making him the beneficiary of her estate. Feinberg found out, called the postal inspectors, who reported the problem to me. I obtained Jenny’s medical records and a statement from her long-time family doctor verifying that she suffered Organic Brain Syndrome for the past two years, expert testimony that she lacked capacity when signing.
This case was “open and closed” so to speak, but the interesting parts were the actions taken by the attorney and banker involved in the case, and the self-incriminating responses by Steele in his statement.
“Mike, how was Jenny mentally, I mean do you believe that she can think for herself?”
“Yes sir, she’s very smart, very quick. Okay, sometimes she would tell me the same story four or five times in a row so she’s forgetful, but I’m forgetful. Sometimes I forget what day it is. I think that she is totally sound.”
“Where you present when she signed this will two months ago?”
“No I wasn’t. I was told that I should stay away because of something called undue influence.”
“Who told you that?”
“Her attorney. He went to her house to have her sign it.”
“Mike, she’s already got an attorney, she’s had the same one for many years. Are you sure this wasn’t your attorney?”
“No it was hers, she wanted a new one. I just helped them to connect. Again, I’ve only done what she wanted me to do.”
Steele could word the attorney issue any way he liked, but the truth was that Jenny was not capable of choosing an attorney. So how could this attorney have believed that he was acting in a legitimate manner? When I interviewed him, he simply insisted that it was his personal opinion that Jenny had capacity. The recorded fee that he charged was reasonable, but in a scenario like this he could have been paid much more under the table for his services.
After running into this “assisting attorney” scenario many times, I wondered why they were not held accountable like the suspect, for exploiting or assisting with the exploitation of victims. A prosecutor once told me that attorneys have an “umbrella of protection” that makes prosecuting them very difficult. We agreed that it would be easier if the law specifically recognized and included those that assist in exploitations.
Before the statement was concluded, Steele answered questions related to his activities at Jenny’s bank.
“Mike, how much of Jenny’s money did you take from the bank?”
“I didn’t take any money, she did. One day I withdrew a thousand dollars and brought it to her like she told me to do, but all the other times I simply drove her to the bank and she took it out.”
As indicated earlier, common sense was not that common with bankers in these days. The attorneys for the banks were so fearful of the repercussions of refusing to give a customer their money that they lost all common sense when advising on how to deal with suspicious scenarios of this type.
Steele brought the victim to her bank with the testamentary documents in hand, he sat her down in front of a banker and proceeded to have his name put on all of her accounts, replacing the name of Martin Feinberg. The banker said that Jenny appeared to be completely confused but Steele had the power of attorney, forcing the name addition to the account. Steele brought Jenny home and then returned immediately to the bank to withdraw a thousand dollars. The employee called Jenny at home and she had no recollection of being at the bank, or adding Steele to her accounts. She told the banker not to give him any of her money, but the banker did, and later testified that she believed she had to because his name was already on the account.
(Instances like these had me wondering if bankers also suffered mental disabilities.)
Mike Steele was arrested for exploitation and grand theft and his career as a postal worker ended. With the help of more attorneys, his name was removed from Jenny’s accounts and her old will was reinstated. There was nothing brilliant about his scheme and no surprises, after all stealing is what thieves do, but the lack of ethical responsibility of the professionals around him made this thing happen, and that’s something for us all to be concerned about. Whether financial exploitation of an elder occurs via guardian abuse, caretaker abuse, abuse by a family member, a stranger, or even the mailman, there is usually a professional of some type involved. This is why the Florida exploitation law was written in a manner that specifically includes others who conspire and assist with the commission of this crime as additional potential offenders.
~by Joe Roubicek Copyright 2004 Coral Springs
One Bad Lemon:
(Originally Posted on 9-26-10)
Point: Harmful lack of communication between government agencies:
Ninety-four-year-old Vera Cordes laid helplessly in her nursing home bed watching a stocky woman dressed in white, a nurse maybe, going through her purse on the nightstand.
The room was dark and a sleeping pill had left Vera too drugged to protest, but she knew what she saw at the time. This was in April 1994 and she had just arrived at the Manor Oaks nursing home in northeast Fort Lauderdale after a lengthy hospital stay for a broken hip.
The next morning Vera checked her purse, didn’t notice anything missing and chalked it up to the medication and her imagination.
Months later, Vera finally returned home to discover that several of her bank checks had been stolen at some point – and cashed for a total of more than $700 by someone named “Gwenda Lemon.” Another $5,000 also had been charged on one of Vera’s credit cards to pay for things she knew nothing about.
She reported the incident to the nursing home management and they, in turn, did their own investigation to find that Gwenda Lemon was a former employee who had quit in May. The managers filed a police report with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. But it was never assigned to a detective for a follow-up investigation.
In October 1994, a 72-year-old man who was paralyzed from the waist down checked into the Vencor Hospital in downtown Fort Lauderdale. His name was Roy Wilson and he was scheduled for a lengthy hospital stay. While being admitted, he handed his wallet, checkbook and other valuables to the admissions secretary to be put in a safe. She was a pleasant, stocky woman, a new employee.
Roy returned home in late November and, like Vera, went through his bank statements. He found that, while he was in the hospital, a woman called Gwenda Lemon had been cashing his checks. He hadn’t realized that they were missing from his checkbook. He was devastated because she cashed 15 of them for more than $17,000.
But he had no idea that Lemon was also the secretary who took his property at the hospital. Had he known, he would have alerted them. Instead, Roy reported the crime to police in Pompano Beach, the city where he resided. A patrolman took the report and filed it as a routine check fraud incident and then, of course, the paperwork soon was lost among a dozen other cases sitting on an overworked detective’s desk. Crimes against persons, things like rape and robbery and homicide, understandably receive priority over check fraud.
Over the next several months, Roy lived each day confined to a wheelchair in his home, a difficult but routine existence for an elderly man. But the routine ended in March when a stranger knocked on his door. Roy opened it up to see a stocky woman dressed in a white nurse’s uniform – a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.
The woman said that she was a social worker sent by Vencor Hospital to make sure that his recovery was going well. Roy felt uneasy because her visit was unexpected, so he asked for identification. She gave him her driver’s license and the infirm old man recognized her name immediately.
“You’re Gwenda Lemon? You stole my checks! You ripped me off!” He didn’t have a chance to say anymore.
Lemon snatched her driver’s license out of his hand, spun him around in the wheelchair and pushed him through the doorway into his kitchen. Then she pulled out a can of mace and sprayed his face while spinning the wheelchair around and around.
The mace brought him instant pain and Roy screamed out as it burned his eyes, nose and skin. His chest tightened up in a reflexive action as he gasped for air in complete panic and disorientation.
He begged her to stop, but she wasn’t through yet. She reached down, firmly grabbed the bottom of the wheelchair and flipped Roy over, head first, onto the kitchen floor, with his wheelchair landing on top of him. Then Lemon maced him again.
He laid whimpering as she ripped the phone out of the wall and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Roy alone on the floor.
He later said that he had waited motionless, fearing another attack, wondering if she would kill him in the end. He could hear her going through paperwork in his office, but he didn’t care. Roy listened intently as she walked back towards the kitchen and braced himself for another attack, but it never came. Lemon had found what she wanted and left.
Despite the mauling and his disabilities, Roy managed to crawl to another phone in the house and call police. They arrived in moments and rushed him to the hospital. He would be okay physically, but never the same mentally – always afraid in his own home.
A home invasion robbery report was made and a Pompano Beach detective got on the case immediately. Because Lemon had taken back her driver’s license, Roy would have to pick her out of a photo line-up. Then the detective could get an arrest warrant and hunt her down.
The following day, the detective showed Roy the photos of Lemon and five other women who looked similar to her. But there was a problem because the other women were too similar in appearance. Roy picked the wrong photograph.
Afterwards, he complained that three of the women could have been the same person, but it was too late. Lemon’s photo could not be presented to him legitimately again in another line-up.
Lemon had not eased up at all since her vicious attack against Roy. She had stolen another seven checks from him that day. Within a week, she had used them to make payments toward her car loan, electric and other bills.
A Pompano Beach detective soon called and asked Lemon in for an interview. She agreed, but also stopped by a furniture rental store on the way to the police station. She still felt brazen enough to use one of Roy’s checks to make a rental payment.
The detective had hoped to squeeze a confession out of this very bad Lemon. He would need it. The prosecutor had already refused to file charges after Roy’s bad identification.
Sadly, Lemon gave the investigator nothing to hang her with.
Despite the detective’s efforts to convince her that she would only be admitting the obvious, she looked him in the eye and insisted that she didn’t do it. Someone had been impersonating her, Lemon claimed.
She walked out of the police station a free woman that day. The detective soon shifted his attention to other cases involving those rapes and robberies and homicides. Lemon just moved on to new victims.
Four months passed and, in the first week of August 1995, Hurricane Erin bore down on the southeast coast of Florida. The National Hurricane Center issued warnings, which resulted in a mandatory evacuation for the coastal areas of Fort Lauderdale.
A coastal resident named Mary who was in her 70s, checked herself into Vencor Hospital to avoid going to a local hurricane shelter. She never left.
During the elderly woman’s hospital stay, Lemon stole and cashed several of Mary’s checks for a total of $1,300. Mary became ill unexpectedly, though, and died before police could interview her. Although the death suspiciously coincided with her exploitation by Lemon, hospital medical records cited death by natural causes.
A week later, a 69-year-old woman suffering cancer checked into the same hospital. She would later testify that, when admitted for treatment, she had given her checkbook, food stamps, credit card and cash to the secretary in admissions for “safekeeping.” They had disappeared, of course. Lemon had stolen a total of $800 from this frail cancer patient.
Police reports were made for both victims, but the incidents were assigned as fraud investigations to two other detectives who handled such cases. I didn’t know about either one at the time.
Throughout this entire period, neither me nor any other cop knew that Lemon was listed as a suspect in multiple elderly exploitation cases in different local police jurisdictions and even within the same agency. She could be described as a “serial exploiter”- someone who exploits a number of elderly victims over time using the same method.
Lemon was a bold, shameless predator with an “in-your-face” approach that effectively victimized many helpless seniors. Unfortunately, a lack of communication between agencies enabled her to continue to prey on the elderly throughout Broward County.
Finally, however, Manor Oaks nursing home contacted me after managers there heard that Lemon was working at Vencor Hospital. They assumed that she already had been arrested for targeting Vera Cordis a full year earlier and wondered how she could still be working in the health care field.
As a result, I ran Lemon’s name in the FLPD computer and was shocked to find that she had several complaints against her from the nursing home and hospital. The hospital also advised me that a Pompano Beach detective had been asking about her months earlier. After contacting that detective, I was “off to the races,” so to speak.
I focused on obtaining positive identifications and statements from all the victims and, in two weeks time, I had an arrest warrant for Lemon on numerous counts of exploitation and check fraud. But I was disappointed that she wasn’t being charged with the home invasion of Roy Wilson. Roy couldn’t identify her and she naturally denied committing the crime.
Lemon had quit her job at Vencor Hospital by this time and so, while hunting her down, I tried to figure out a way to get her to admit the home invasion. This had to be done without scaring her into refusing to speak with me at all.
I came up with an idea and finally located her. She was, of all things, a patient in another hospital. Lemon was having a baby. The delivery went fine, but she had a slight fever afterwards and the doctor decided to keep her in the hospital for observation for a couple days.
Before I went into her room to interview Lemon, I spoke with the medical staff and verified that she was not under the influence of any medication that would affect her judgment. Then I walked in, introduced myself and advised her of the arrest warrant.
I assured her that she would not be taken into custody until she was out of the hospital and recovered. Lemon was calm and told me she had known that the police would be coming for her eventually. She was actually grateful for the delay in the arrest and agreeable to discussing the charges.
I decided that it was time to make my move. “Gwenda, you seem like a decent person to me, but the prosecutor doesn’t agree. He’s the one who decides to charge, or not charge, you for the home invasion robbery of Roy Wilson. That’s the charge that you really have to worry about.”
She watched me intently and remained silent. And now the lies…
“I already have proof that you were there that evening. I had the wheelchair processed for fingerprints and yours were lifted from the bottom of it. What bothers me, though, is that Mr. Wilson has several prior complaints against him by prostitutes. It appears that he invites them into his home and then tries to assault them.”
She smiled a little and started shaking her head up and down. Bingo! “Yes, I was there, but he attacked me. He would give me money to show him my titties, but then he wanted to touch them and I wouldn’t let him. He offered me more money and I said no, because I don’t go that far. I’m not that kind of person. Then he became angry and pulled out some mace and started spraying me all over!”
“A pervert, eh? So what did you do, spray him back?” No, I didn’t. I just held up the couch pillows to try to block it and ran out of the house. I never sprayed him, I swear it.”
The lies worked.
Roy had no prior police complaints involving prostitution or anything else and Lemon’s fingerprints were never lifted from his wheelchair. I just had needed her to admit being there and now she had. And not only that. Lemon actually had given me a statement insisting that she was there.
The prosecutor was delighted and filed additional charges of burglary of an occupied dwelling and battery on an elderly person, two serious felonies.
I arrested Lemon on February 7, 1996. It was a “no bond” arrest, which meant that she should have been held in jail right through her trial dates.
But my cases just don’t end that easily.
Lemon’s attorney was granted a bond hearing and the presiding judge was the same woman that I had written about in an earlier chapter, Judge Susan “Let’ em Go” Lebow.
The hearing proceeded as bond hearings normally do. The prosecutor argued that the defendant should stay in jail because she was a flight risk and a danger to the community. The defense argued that I had tricked Lemon into giving me a statement and that she was actually an upstanding, peaceful citizen with a new baby.
Judge Lebow listened to both sides and ruled that my tactic of tricking Lemon into incriminating herself did not violate any constitutional rights, but she also ruled in favor of granting bond. Lemon bonded out the same week of her arrest. She was a free woman again and this time managed to avoid assaulting others. At least, for several months.
On July 13, 1996, Lemon climbed into her car armed with a handgun and drove to a house in the tough northwest section of Fort Lauderdale. Her husband had been shot and wounded that morning during a dispute there. Lemon believed that the shooter was inside the home and she wanted revenge.
On arriving, she scrambled out of the car and fired several shots through the front picture window. Witnesses watched her throwing a tantrum and shouting obscenities on the front lawn before finally driving away. Two adults and several children were in the house at the time. Fortunately, they were not injured.
Lemon also didn’t show up for her scheduled court appearances and Judge Lebow finally issued a bench warrant for her arrest. This dangerous criminal was taken into custody in her home and that arrest at last stuck.
Lemon remained in jail until June 1997, when she plead guilty to a dozen felony charges. Judge Lebow had enough and sentenced her to eight years in prison. Justice was finally served.
A year earlier, Vera Cordes was quoted on Lemon in the papers as saying, “She had a good time, didn’t she? The fact that she was out there doing it to other people, that’s what bothered me.”
But Vera died before Lemon’s final arrest. In fact, half of Lemon’s elderly victims were deceased by the time that she was sentenced.
In reality, justice is not swift and exploitation victims don’t live forever.
~ by Joe Roubicek, copyright 2010 Coral Springs
FROM THE BOOK: FINANCIAL ABUSE OF THE ELDERLY
While the number of violent crimes in the U.S. is decreasing, financial crimes against the elderly are increasing as a result of the aging of the population and greater concentration of wealth among older people. According to a 2005 Senior Forum Report by the White House Conference On Aging, only one in 100 cases of financial abuse is reported, and there are millions of financial abuse victims each year. The money is certainly there for the taking: persons over 50 control at least 70% of the nation’s household net worth. 75% of victims of financial abuse are between the ages of 70 and 89. The majority are female, frail and mentally impaired.
The Senior Forum Report pointed to a lack of knowledge regarding scams and the inability of seniors to recognize scams and make sure their financial matters are in order. But victims who are “frail and mentally impaired” simply cannot protect themselves. It is up to the rest of us—family members, neighbors, friends, and those of us who come into contact with the elderly in our work, whether as bank tellers, attorneys, health care professionals, or service providers of any kind, to help them protect themselves. Armed with knowledge, we can take steps in advance to prevent ourselves from becoming victims when we become old and infirm.
Fraud vs. Exploitation
Since 1990 I have investigated more than 1,000 cases of exploitation of the elderly during my former career as a detective with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. During this time I’ve realized that reports that address financial crimes against the elderly usually conflate two types of crimes, fraud and exploitation. Fraud is based on deception, but exploitation of the elderly is a much subtler and much more often ignored crime. Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography applies equally to exploitation crimes: I may not be able to define it precisely but I know it when I see it.
Definitions of fraud found in dictionaries, or state and federal laws, are essentially based on deception. When referring to the theft of physical property, fraud is basically defined as the false and deceptive statement of fact intended to induce another person to give up a valuable item he or she owns. Scams, confidence games, rackets, hoaxes and shakedowns are common terms used to describe misrepresentations and trickery used by con men or women to entice their target into making bad decisions.
“Choice” is involved with fraud and there is an assumption in state laws throughout the nation that fraud victims have the capacity to weigh information and make decisions based on that information. But what if the victim does not have capacity?
That’s when the crime may actually be exploitation rather than fraud. The dictionary defines exploitation as selfish or unfair use of someone or something for one’s own advantage, taking advantage of another person in an organized or systematic way. My own state, Florida, defines an exploitation victim as “a person 60 years of age or older who is suffering from the infirmities of aging as manifested by advanced age or organic brain damage, or other physical, mental, or emotional dysfunctioning, to the extent that the ability of the person to provide adequately for the person’s own care or protection is impaired.” An exploitation crime occurs when someone takes advantage of the vulnerability or dependant condition of a disabled elderly person to deprive that person of their assets. So while elderly fraud victims are independent persons with the capacity to give consent, exploitation victims are disabled in some manner and this disability contributes to their victimization.
Exploitation victims came from all walks of life and every socioeconomic group. The perpetrators often turned out to be those we would least expect: neighbors, spiritual leaders, nurses, guardians, even the mailman or plumber on occasion.
I have written this book by drawing on my first-hand experience that presents a group of interesting cases that illustrate the nature of exploitation crimes. These cases are “the real thing,” based on facts. I explain how to recognize and prevent victimization through better understanding and by implementing simple safeguards. Each chapter presents a case from my files that provide analysis of why the elderly person was victimized.
Exploiters are usually very successful criminals and crimes that succeed soon become epidemic. My goal here is simple. I want independent senior citizens to protect themselves, and the average “Joe” to be able to protect an older loved one. One day we will all be in the same boat and by taking action now we protect ourselves for the future.
AARP – 7 Common Snowbird Scams:
The following article 7 Common Snowbird Scams, Con Artists Head South to Prey on Older Seasonal Residents, is from AARP, written by Sid Kirscheimer, dated November 14, 2012. For convenience, it is posted below. To see the original article, click here.
AARP ARTICLE – 7 Common Snowbird Scams
It’s not just retirees who flock to warm-weather states such as Florida and Arizona as the temperature drops up north. During snowbird season — November through April — scammers also head south to prey on the half-year residents.
“Absolutely, during snowbird season there’s an increase in scams — and many are done by organized outfits … who specifically target older seasonal residents,” says Joe Roubicek, who spent 20 years investigating scams as a Fort Lauderdale police detective before writing Financial Abuse of the Elderly: A Detective’s Case Files of Exploitation Crimes.
Be on the lookout for scammers who follow Snowbirds to warmer areas in the winters. For Scam Alert. Be on the lookout for scammers who follow snowbirds to warmer areas in the winter. — Thomas Collins/Getty Images
If you’re among the thousands about to migrate to a warmer climate, beware of these common snowbird scams:
1. The malevolent mechanic. They wait outside shopping malls or supermarkets, watching for snowbirds (often recognized by out-of-state license plates) to park and go inside. If the car’s older or left unlocked, they can pop the hood and disable the vehicle by pulling wires. “When the elder returns, they offer help getting their car started — after driving them to the bank for money to pay for the repair,” says Roubicek. “Their main target: women in their 70s or 80s.” Your best option, if you’re not a AAA member, is to call a friend or police to give you a hand.
2. Pickpockets. Organized gangs work flea markets and the aisles of stores near retirement communities for a week or so, then move to the next community, says Bob Arno, a former pickpocket-turned-comedic counselor on street crimes. Snowbirds are especially targeted because they tend to carry cash, wear looser-fitting clothing and may have slower reactions.
If you’re in a crowd or you see strangers ahead, keep your hand on your wallet or tightly clutch your handbag. Be especially careful when approached by “lost” duos in need of directions. (One distracts you — sometimes with map in hand — while the other dips into your bag.) If possible, keep wallets in a buttoned pocket or in a safety pouch worn beneath clothing.
3. ID theft. Roubicek warns of store clerks who capture credit card numbers with cellphone cameras or pen and paper and then make fraudulent purchases. It’s a good idea to use only one card — with the lowest credit limit — for snowbird season purchases and go online regularly to keep close tabs on its activity.
4. The bank examiner scam. Milling around outside banks, con artists pose as bank officials or law enforcement agents who are investigating a corrupt teller. They ask you, as a trusted customer, to go inside, withdraw some money and hand it over. Don’t worry, we just need to check serial numbers and mark the banknotes, you’re told — we’ll redeposit them right away to see if the teller steals any. Of course, they and the cash quickly disappear. Real banking examiners and police don’t need your money for their investigations.
Speak Out! Run into a scam not mentioned here? Have additional tips other readers could use? Speak out on our Scams & Fraud message board.
5. The lottery winner who can’t collect. In a parking lot, someone approaches you claiming to hold a winning lottery ticket. Only problem, the “winner” is in the United States illegally and can’t go get the money. Just pay me a portion of the jackpot, you’re told, and you can have the ticket. Its number may be “verified” by a passerby — “I saw it announced on TV last night.” In reality, this person is an accomplice.
It’s one of many so-called pigeon drop scams, in which a stranger offers to share a fortune (found money, an inheritance, etc.) once you make your “good faith” contribution. Forget good faith; use good judgment instead.
6. The condo caper. Unannounced visits by self-described utility workers or contractors should always sound internal alarms of a possible scam. But a request to enter your home can have more credence when the front-door fraudster claims “the condo association sent me.”
The crooks often work in pairs and also pose as exterminators. One may “accidentally” spill liquid or even spray pesticide on you and divert your attention by helping with the cleanup while the other stealthily steals valuables.
“If there’s one guy, the ‘accident’ can be to lubricate your hand so he can slip a ring off your finger — or offers to clean it for you,” notes Roubicek. “Some then just pocket the jewelry and run off, knowing that many elders are timid and won’t stop them.”
So unless you initiate contact or the condo association gives prior notice, never let these folks inside your dwelling.
7. Telemarketing cons. Snowbirds can expect an uptick in phony phone calls claiming that they’ve won a sweepstakes or that a grandchild is in a jam and needs a quick wiring of cash. Why? “The energy of boiler rooms moves to snowbird communities” in the winter, says Roubicek, as scammers buy calling lists of communities that are swelled by thousands of seasonal residents. If you own a condo or second home, it’s easy to get personal info such as your name and age, information that’s dropped into the come-on to make it seem more legitimate.
Just hang up!
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.