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Howard Ain, Troubleshooter: Caregiver theft alert
CINCINNATI (Howard Ain) -- A family realizes that the woman they hired to care for their elderly father robbed him blind.
Knowing what happened in this case may help others learn how to protect themselves and their family members. This is among a family's worst fears. Hiring someone to care for elderly parents and then find that person has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Susan Lewis, a fraud victim, said, "Our father died alone and he has six children."
91-year-old Edward Whitehead's final years were difficult. Dementia was robbing him of his memory and an attendant was draining his bank account.
Susan was his daughter, "She portrayed herself as a caregiver. She immediately took over and controlled everything."
Diane Harvell was the woman hired to provide transportation for their father and help with small tasks. What happened next was a warning for all families.
Michael Van De Putte, a U.S. Postal Inspector, said, "She managed to weasel her way into the family and ostracized him from his children, managed to convince him that she was the only one he could trust."
Edward Whitehead, the victim's son, said, "She wanted to keep us away. If she could keep us away that way we couldn't force her into court or get more information on her."
Harvell convinced Whitehead to sign over his power of attorney. She then altered his will and forged notary public signatures, all without his family knowing.
Susan said, "She signed all documents as if she were his daughter. She signed do not resuscitate."
When Edward Whitehead died, none of his family knew.
"This woman was 10 steps ahead of us; the moment we found out our father was deceased we found out that evening. The next morning she was down there filing a forged will," Susan said.
Postal inspectors began pouring over bank records and surveillance video and verified Harvell stole hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"She took his money in structured withdrawals, less than $10,000 from the bank, drained over $200,000 of his personal savings," the postal inspector said.
Investigators said her control and his dementia were a terrible combination.
Van De Putte said, "Senior citizens generally have savings, or a decent amount of money, and are generally easy targets because they are very trusting."
Some advice from postal inspectors, don't wait until it's too late to set up a plan that protects your elderly loved ones. And be wary of any new person coming into a senior citizen's life, or a parent, grandparent that suffers from dementia/ Alzheimer's.
Harvell now faces mail theft, ID theft, mail fraud, forgery and several other charges. Postal inspectors said she could face up to 15 years in prison.
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