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