Thursday, March 21, 2019

After $2M-plus stolen from New Orleans lawyer Bernard 'Bunny' Charbonnet, couple pleads guilty

Money used on Saints tickets, vacations, a lease payments for a Mercedes-Benz, among other things 


A north shore woman recently pleaded guilty to stealing more than $2 million from the law firm of prominent New Orleans attorney Bernard “Bunny” Charbonnet Jr., and her husband admitted to laundering some of the money.

Latanya Arnold, 49, began serving a three-year prison sentence on March 8, a little more than a month after pleading guilty to a charge of felony theft, according to St. Tammany Parish court records. District Attorney Warren Montgomery's office handled the case.

Then, last week, her husband, 50-year-old Raymond Arnold, received five years of probation shortly after pleading guilty to a charge of money laundering.

Judge Scott Gardner of 22nd Judicial District Court ordered both Arnolds to pay restitution, with Latanya’s being more than $2.2 million and Raymond’s roughly $272,000.

Charbonnet didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. But, in a statement from Montgomery’s office, he described how the theft “devastated the financial stability of his business (and) shattered his trust in the humanity of people.”

Charbonnet, 67, is a well-known figure in local political circles, having held roles such as general counsel for the New Orleans Aviation Board and Orleans Parish School Board while sitting on the city’s port and public library boards.

He was a key supporter of the 2017 mayoral bid of his sister, Desiree Charbonnet, who lost to LaToya Cantrell.

The case against the Arnolds dates back to early May 2017, when — a few days after Latanya Arnold left the firm — Charbonnet noticed a $25,000 withdrawal from a bank account that only he and she could access.

A warrant filed by the New Orleans Police Department said she had used the money to bail her son, Malcolm, out of jail following his arrest in St. Charles Parish on drug possession counts.

When Charbonnet confronted Arnold, she said she would repay the money, police said at the time. But police said she later forged Charbonnet’s signature on a check drawing money from another of his law office’s bank accounts, which she couldn’t access.

A worried Charbonnet then had all of his firm’s accounts audited, dating back to Arnold’s hiring in 2008. That audit identified $2,240,534 in unauthorized expenditures from six bank accounts associated with Charbonnet’s firm and related entities, authorities said.

Authorities said Arnold used the money for a Mercedes-Benz, tuition, vacations, clothes, salon services, tickets to Saints games and loan payments.

Police also found evidence that some of the money covered operating expenses for two companies that the Arnolds ran out of their home in Slidell. One sold tobacco products; the other was involved in the trucking business.

Investigators in New Orleans arrested the Arnolds on July 21, and they posted bail shortly afterward.

Ultimately, it was Montgomery who filed charges in the case. Both Arnolds were charged with theft, with Raymond Arnold facing an additional count of money laundering.

Latanya Arnold, who moves around with the help of a wheelchair, pleaded guilty as charged in Gardner’s courtroom on Feb. 6 rather than stand trial. She received a 10-year prison sentence March 1, with seven of those years suspended. She will serve three years of probation upon her release.

Raymond Arnold pleaded guilty to money laundering on March 11; Montgomery’s office dismissed the theft count. He received a 10-year prison sentence that was entirely suspended but faces five years of probation.

Raymond Arnold’s position was that “he didn’t know everything that his wife was doing,” his attorney, Jerry Fontenot, said Tuesday. “He admitted to knowing about a portion of the money but was unaware of the full extent.”

An attorney for Latanya Arnold, Aaron Rives, said he and his client believed the outcome of the case was reasonable. He said it had been “a hard time for her and her family.”

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After $2M-plus stolen from New Orleans lawyer Bernard 'Bunny' Charbonnet, couple pleads guilty

Former nurse accused of sexually assaulting senior at Caroline rehabilitation center

Gene Paul Brown
A former nurse at a rehabilitation facility in Caroline County has been charged with multiple felony offenses for allegedly sexually assaulting a 71-year-old woman in September, court records show.

Gene Paul Brown, 58, of Fredericksburg, is charged with rape, sodomy, object sexual penetration and abduction with the intent to defile. Brown was working at the Bowling Green Health & Rehabilitation Center at the time of the alleged incidents, but has since been fired.

Caroline Sheriff Tony Lippa said the Bowling Green Police Department got the initial call about the allegations last week but quickly turned the investigation over to the much-larger Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. K.H. Eichenmiller is heading the investigation.

Brown was arrested Wednesday and placed in the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford County, online records show. He has since been transferred to the Pamunkey Regional Jail, where most Caroline offenders are held.

Lippa would not discuss any details about the alleged offenses or how they came to light. “It’s in the court’s hands now,” Lippa said.

Brown was arraigned Friday in Caroline General District Court, where a preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 26.

Full Article & Source: 
Former nurse accused of sexually assaulting senior at Caroline rehabilitation center

Fired employee charged with client theft

A former employee of Twin Ports Guardianship and Payee Services who allegedly stole more than $12,000 from a client's account waived her preliminary hearing in Douglas County Circuit Court on March 12.

Kathy Sue Nelson, 47, of Superior faces 11 counts of felony theft, 11 counts of misdemeanor theft, two counts of identity theft for financial gain and one count of unauthorized use of an entity's identifying information or documents. Cash bail of $5,000 was set for Nelson, who was ordered to have no contact with the client.

According to the criminal complaint, Nelson was an employee of Twin Ports Guardianship and Payee from November 2015 to August 2018. Her employment was terminated after administrators found unaccounted for funds removed from client accounts, according to Jan Cummings of Twin Ports Guardianship.

The thefts took place from an account under Nelson's control over a 10-month period from October 2017 to July 2018. Nelson had the ability to take cash directly out of the client's account, fill out checks and obtain credit cards from the bank to be used on purchases for the client.

An audit showed Nelson had reportedly taken $12,350 in cash from the client's account and purchased about $5,000 worth of clothing from a retailer in Nelson's size, which is too small for the client.

The reported thefts included cash withdrawals, change from approved purchases that was never returned to the client and the purchase of gift cards, books, jewelry and other merchandise without the client's knowledge or permission. Many of the gift cards were used at Superior and Duluth businesses.

Cummings said the purchases could not have been made by the client, who lives in an Ashland nursing home and does not travel to Superior.

She told Officer Jeff Felton of the Superior Police Department that they had become suspicious of Nelson's spending habits before the audit. Nelson reportedly had taken at least seven destination vacations in the year prior to her termination.

The felony counts, all class H, carry a maximum penalty of six years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Nelson's next court appearance was set for April 17.

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Fired employee charged with client theft

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

CEO of guardianship company indicted

Attorney General Hector Balderas
The CEO of Guardian Angels Representative Payee Services, a private company that managed the finances for special needs or infirm people, has been indicted on charges of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from clients.

According to the indictment filed in 2nd Judicial District Court on Tuesday, between June and November of last year, 56-year-old Pamela Crumpler “did convert to her own use money belonging to her clients,” and it was “with intent at the time of conversion to fraudulently deprive the owner of his/her property.”

She then put the money back into her clients’ bank accounts to avoid getting caught, according to the indictment.

“No one should take advantage of vulnerable individuals in our community,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a news release. “We are prepared to present this case at trial.”

Crumpler is charged with embezzlement over $20,000 and tampering with evidence.

The Journal could not reach her for comment.

Representative payee and guardianship companies operate by taking control of their clients’ Social Security or other government benefits, annuity payments or settlement proceeds and paying their clients’ expenses for food, housing and other needs.

This is the third instance in the past two years where such a company has been charged with embezzling funds from clients.

The other two companies, Ayudando Guardians Inc. and Desert State Life Management, were accused of taking millions of dollars from clients and have since been shut down.

In fact, Balderas said, many of the clients Crumpler is accused of siphoning money from came to her from the now-defunct Ayudando Guardians.

Ayudando Guardians Inc., one of the state’s largest guardian and representative payee services firms, was shuttered in August 2017. Its chief financial officer, president, the president’s son and the president’s husband were federally charged in a $4 million embezzlement scheme that prosecutors say supported their lavish spending habits on luxury cruises and vacations.

The four are awaiting trial.

After Ayudando shut down, its estimated 1,400 clients were transferred to other guardians or firms – including the nonprofit Guardian Angels.

Balderas said Crumpler’s scheme began in 2018 when BBVA Compass Bank began running a promotion that would deposit $200 into new accounts that met certain requirements.

According to a letter Balderas sent to the bank, Crumpler took advantage of this promotion and shifted 247 of her clients’ accounts to the bank. Then, he said, she withdrew the bonus money and deposited it into her own account.

“In total, the CEO of GARP embezzled nearly $50,000 of funds designed to go specifically to the benefit of these vulnerable persons,” Balderas wrote in the letter.

Crumpler could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

The indictment comes less than three weeks after Paul Donisthorpe, the CEO of another nonprofit trust company, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for stealing $4.8 million from more than 70 clients.

Desert State Life Management is now closed, but it had acted as a conservator and fiduciary for developmentally or physically disabled and elderly individuals.

In early February, Balderas asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for assistance in combatting what he called a guardianship crisis in the state. He said the current lack of state regulation and oversight of the process has led to repeated exploitation of a vulnerable population.

A bill being considered by lawmakers would add additional safeguards to help prevent such vulnerable people from being exploited by their money managers and guardians.

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CEO of guardianship company indicted

Judge nullifies mentally incompetent San Antonio man’s adult adoptions, scolds lawyer for misleading him

Laura Martinez, 54, center and her adult children, Joe Martinez Thrash, 27, left, and Brittany Martinez Thrash, 25, right, listen to their attorney, Phil Ross outside the Bexar County 73rd District Court, Tuesday during a break in an adoption hearing, March 19, 2019. Martinez’ March 4th marriage to Charlie Thrash, 81, was annulled in court
After a quick court hearing Tuesday, Joe and Brittany Thrash became Joe and Brittany Martinez again.

The reversal came two weeks after they were adopted by Charlie Thrash, 81, a wealthy San Antonio man who in 2017 was found to be mentally incapacitated.

Joe, 27, and Brittany, 25, are the children of Thrash’s girlfriend Laura Martinez, who married him on March 4.

That short-lived union was annulled last week in Bexar Probate Court, where Thrash is under the protection of court-appointed guardians.

Because of his incapacity, Thrash has been under standing court orders to not marry, vote, drive a car or make any important personal decisions, including, apparently adoptions.

On Tuesday, State District Judge David Canales nullified the adoptions that he had approved a week earlier. It came at the request of Thrash’s guardians, who claimed that the adoptions were “a fraud on the court.”

The judge scolded lawyer Phil Ross, who represents Laura Martinez, and was involved in the adoptions, for misleading him and not alerting him to Thrash’s legal status.

“It sounds like a lot of information that would have been helpful to me was not presented,” Canales said.

Barrett Shipp, the lawyer for Thrash’s guardian Mary Werner, said these omissions “completely robbed this court of being able to enter a proper order.”

Ross objected to the motion to void the adoptions even being heard, claiming that Canales lacked jurisdiction and that Thrash should have been present Tuesday at the hearing.

Ross said Thrash had the right to adopt the two Martinez children, despite the standing order from probate court.

Canales saw it otherwise and restored the siblings to their former status.

“The adoptions have been set aside. It starts all over again,” said Laura Cavaretta, a lawyer for Tonya Barina, guardian of Thrash’s estate, worth more than $3 million.

Tharsh, who operated a specialty auto repair shop on West Avenue for decades, has not been seen publicly in two weeks.

On March 6, Werner arrived at his home in Shavano Park with police officers and took him away. She said Thrash is now staying with a relative and doing well.

Laura Martinez, 54, who said she is the sole beneficiary of Thrash’s will, said she loves him and wants him back.

“I have a lot of faith. I have many religious people contacting me and they are not happy about the annulment and the questions about the adoptions,” she said. “The kids love him, that’s why they want to be adopted by him.”

Martinez has denied mistreating or financially exploiting Thrash, whom she says she began dating in August 2012.

Thrash had been married and divorced twice, and did not have children of his own.

A report by a court-appointed investigator, as well as statements by adult protective services officials, painted Thrash as being controlled and manipulated by Martinez and her family.

According to Elaine Damian, investigator for Bexar Probate Court No. 1, Thrash did not want to get married and gets along well with his guardians. She also concluded that Thrash was vulnerable to suggestion and intimidation, and stated the guardianships are necessary.

In a lengthy rebuttal to the court investigator’s report, Ross took issue with claims he was being controlled and isolated, and attacked the guardian’s conduct as interfering unnecessarily with Thrash’s personal and business affairs.

“Damian’s report is inadequate, biased and unreliable because it fails to report investigation of important facts including hostile and malicious actions of Barina, guardian of estate, and Werner, guardian of the person,” Ross asserted, going on to list numerous alleged hostile acts.

Among them, according to Ross, was Barina’s closing of Thrash’s bank accounts, locking him out of his business, failing to arrange for his financial support and ignoring medical claims that his mental capacity has been restored.

He accused Werner, Thash’s personal guardian, of “conspiring with Shavano Park Police Department … on the pretext of a welfare check to abduct Charlie from his home against this will on March 4, 2019, and facilitating his false imprisonment.”

Werner said she was forced to remove Thrash for his own safety, and because Martinez was uncooperative and manipulative.

Full Article & Source:
Judge nullifies mentally incompetent San Antonio man’s adult adoptions, scolds lawyer for misleading him

Lauderdale: 5 common myths about powers of attorney

Mitzi Lauderdale
While most of us have heard of a power of attorney, many have misconceptions about them.

A few common myths:

1. There is one uniform power of attorney document. Definitely not. There are many types that can be further complicated by state-by-state variations. Some states recognize other states’ documents while others do not. Texas has a statutory power of attorney form available online that might be acceptable to address simple needs. However, it is essential to work with an attorney to draft a document to meet your specific needs.

2. I can sign a power of attorney even if I lack mental capacity. A power of attorney is a contract that grants rights to a third party (the agent) to act on our behalf. To be valid, the person granting the rights (the principal) must have mental capacity to execute the document. A power of attorney cannot be used in lieu of a guardianship for individuals with mental incapacity. A power of attorney can be valid for a person with mental incapacity as long as the document was executed prior to the occurrence. In fact, this is one of the key reasons everyone should have a durable power of attorney in place.

3. A durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney are the same. A durable power of attorney grants rights to an agent to act on your behalf regarding your assets. Limited or general? These rights can be general to all assets for an unlimited time or can be limited in scope regarding the time frame and assets included. A medical power of attorney grants a trusted loved one the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf.

4. Senior citizens are the only people who need a power of attorney. Accidents and unforeseen illness can sadly strike at any age. Having a plan in place can ease the burden of one aspect of an already stressful and complicated circumstance. Assuming your spouse has automatic power to make decisions on your behalf is not a safe assumption. It can be much more complicated unless you have granted them the power of attorney.

5. A power of attorney can be used to handle my loved one’s estate upon death. Sadly, I have had to be the bearer of bad news for families who thought this could simplify or avoid the probate process. While there are other ways to structure an estate to avoid probate, a power of attorney is not one of them. A power of attorney allows the agent to stand in the shoes of the principal to make decisions. The power of attorney does not continue beyond the death of the principal. Many times, the agent is also the named executor, but most business for the estate cannot be conducted until letters testamentary have been issued by the court through the probate process.

As long as you avoid the common misconceptions, a power of attorney can be an extremely useful tool to meet our needs ranging from simple to complex. Simple – to allow a friend to close on a house on our behalf because we are out of the state. Complex – in the event we become mentally incompetent due to an accident or illness, we have chosen our agent to serve as our fiduciary - to act in our best interest while making decisions on our behalf. Failing to have a power of attorney can lead to the need for a complicated, lengthy, and costly process to obtain guardianship.

In the end, I want my simple and complex wishes satisfied. With a properly executed power of attorney, the odds are much greater they will be fulfilled. I wish the same for you and your loved ones.

Mitzi Lauderdale is a Certified Financial Planner and associate professor in the Department of Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech.

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Lauderdale: 5 common myths about powers of attorney

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Amid tears, bowed heads, Maryland House of Delegates approves legalizing medically assisted suicide

The Maryland House of Delegates has approved a bill that would  allow terminally ill adults to obtain prescription drugs to end their lives. The vote was 74-66, three votes more than the 71 votes required for passage. A companion bill is pending in the state Senate. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun video)
Following an intense and emotional debate that brought some lawmakers to tears, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill Thursday that would allow terminally ill adults to obtain prescription drugs they could take to end their lives.

It was the fourth attempt to pass the bill; it has failed in three past General Assembly sessions. Thursday’s vote was 74-66 — three votes more than the 71 votes required for passage.

Del. Eric Luedtke choked up as he described how he moved from being an opponent of the idea to a supporter.

The Montgomery County Democrat said he was long opposed to suicide, having had three relatives attempt it. But then his mother fell ill with esophageal cancer in 2014 and lost her independence and control of her body. A few days before she died, he found her in the kitchen, drinking a bottle of liquid morphine in an attempt to end her life.

“I began to ask myself what right I had, as a government official, and even as her son, to dictate to her how her life should end? What right do any of us have to determine that for another individual?”

Struggling to hold back tears, Luedtke said he was voting for the bill because it represented “restoring to people like my mother the ability to make a decision for themselves. A final decision for themselves.”

Luedtke was among several delegates who gave heartfelt, wrenching testimony during the somber debate that lasted nearly 90 minutes. Several shared stories of loved ones who died painful deaths or their own experiences with serious diseases. Others invoked their faith, saying that it’s not up to humans to decide when they die.

At times, delegates wiped away tears. Others bowed their heads or looked skyward in contemplation.

“This is an intensely painful issue for all of us,” said Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, a Prince George’s County Democrat who spoke against the bill.

After the vote was taken, Del. Shane Pendergrass, the bill’s sponsor, smiled and fist-bumped Del. Kumar Barve.

“I think that the quote that ‘Every person is one bad death away from supporting this bill’ was prophetic. It has been the thing that has resonated most with me over the years,” Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, said in an interview.

A companion bill sponsored by Sen. Will Smith is pending in the state Senate.

The legislation would allow a doctor to prescribe drugs to a patient that the person could take to end his or her life. The patient must be at least 18 years old and have a terminal illness with a prognosis of less than six months to live. The patient must request the prescription on three occasions, including once in private and once in writing — provisions meant to prevent patients from being coerced.

Supporters said having the option of medically assisted suicide would allow people to maintain control and die without suffering.

Del. Sandy Bartlett described the excruciating pain she suffered while in treatment for bilateral breast cancer. Having confronted her mortality, Bartlett, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said she doesn’t want to suffer in death.

“I do not want anyone forcing me to live in pain or in a drugged state or die humanely in starvation in hospice,” she said.

Some delegates used their personal stories to argue the opposite point — that it’s not appropriate to end anyone’s life prematurely.

Del. Cheryl Glenn recounted her sister’s final days after a stroke, when she thinks her sister might have ended her life if she had had the option.

But living a few days longer allowed her sister’s estranged son to travel from overseas, and the two reconciled. Had her sister killed herself, “she would have left this world without making peace with her only son,” said Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat.

Glenn said the experience reminded her: “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, we really don’t.”

Others cited their faith, saying that they believe that life and death are in the hands of God, not human beings.

“Are we becoming above God?” asked Del. Ric Metzgar, a Baltimore County Republican.

Del. Jay Walker recalled the gospel song lyrics: “Lord, lift us up where we belong.”

“It doesn’t say, ‘Doctor, take us where we belong’ or ‘Nurse, lift us up where we belong,’ ” Walker said. “It says, ‘Lord, lift us up where we belong.’ ”

Walker, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said allowing people to end their lives amounts to “overstepping our bounds.”

As on the House floor, the bill has been the subject of lengthy committee hearings full of intimate stories on both sides of the issue. Several hundred people demonstrated against the bill Monday during a March for Life in Annapolis.

Jennifer Briemann, director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, issued a statement praising delegates who had the “courage to stand up to the out-of-state interests pushing this predatory agenda.”

She called on state senators and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to prevent “this dangerously flawed bill” from becoming law.

Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices, an Oregon-based organization that promotes such legislation, observed the debate from the House balcony. She said with baby boomers beginning to reach retirement age, they are dealing with deaths of their parents and peers, causing them to rethink their views on death experiences.

A recent poll from Goucher College found 62 percent of Marylanders support allowing terminally ill patients to obtain medication to end their lives.

Six states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing doctors to prescribe lethal prescriptions to qualifying patients. Seventeen states are considering similar legislation, according to state analysts.

Doctors, too, are becoming more supportive of the bills, Callinan said. MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, previously opposed the bill but took a neutral stance this year.

Smith, the lead Senate bill sponsor and a Montgomery County Democrat, said he was optimistic about the legislation’s chances after the House vote.

“It gives us a lot of momentum in the Senate,” he said. “I suspect that the Senate floor will be a very close vote.”

Hogan, a Republican, has not committed to a position on the bill. He has said that it is “one that I really wrestle with from a personal basis” and that he would give it careful consideration if it reaches his desk.

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Amid tears, bowed heads, Maryland House of Delegates approves legalizing medically assisted suicide

Police: Caretaker went on spending spree using elderly couple's credit cards

BILLERICA, Mass. - A woman accused of stealing credit cards from a 91-year-old man and his deceased wife was the couple's caretaker and neighbor.

Christine Wojcik had stolen the cards and made several purchases at local Market Baskets and CVS locations - and even going to Foxwoods casino - racking up nearly $5,500 in debt in a month, according to the police report.

Wojcik, who was a trusted family friend, was arraigned on theft charges on Tuesday.

"I couldn’t believe she did a thing like that," said nonagenarian Ralph Rizzo.

It's been an emotional few months for Rizzo, who lost his wife, Marie, last year. 

"That was the toughest, after 69 years," he said.

And then, while grieving, the caretaker he trusted for four years was arrested, accused of stealing their credit cards.

"She seemed like a very honest person," Rizzo said. "She was going in the bedroom, fishing around until she got the charge cards."

Rosanne Campbell, the victims’ daughter, said the theft and betrayal have taken a toll on the family.

"The past month has been horrible. I haven’t been able to sleep or anything thinking about it," Campbell said.

Campbell said she was away and her Dad was likely in his recliner in their Billerica home, out of view of what was happening in the bedroom next door. 
"We always kept that door shut. She had no reason in the world to go in that door," Campbell said.

Campbell got the bill last month.

"I opened it and I’m looking at it, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ she said.

Several charges were at Foxwoods casino, police said.

"What the bingo was to me, was I looked at it and I saw Foxwoods” on the same day she’s down there, Campbell said.

Wojcik was arrested and charged with larceny, receiving stolen credit cards and misleading police.

Rizzo and his daughter are trying to move on.

"I wouldn’t trust anyone again. You know what I mean? She really threw me for a loop," Campbell said.

Police reports state there's video evidence of Wojcik using the cards in multiple locations.

Attempts to reach Wojcik at her home were unsuccessful.

She is due back in court in April. 

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Police: Caretaker went on spending spree using elderly couple's credit cards

Public safety: Woman accused of financially exploiting elderly victims

Financial exploitation — A Gridley woman is charged with financial exploitation of two elderly victims.
Angela Sparks, 53, is charged with misappropriation of more than $15,000 from a man and $5,000 from an elderly woman, both over 70 years old. The offenses occurred between August 2017 and September 2018, according to charges. Sparks was jailed in lieu of posting $2,535.

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Public safety: Woman accused of financially exploiting elderly victims