Gwendolyn Swank worked her entire life and when her savings account reached a certain amount, she invested in IRAs, mutual funds and the stock market. By the time she reached her 70s, she had more than $300,000 in assets plus a monthly Social Security check to cover living expenses.
She thought she was set for life. Then in 2004, Rodney Chapman came into her life.
Chapman was a longtime neighbor who for the next six years became Swank’s best friend and worst enemy at the same time. By the time Chapman was arrested at her modest mobile home in Pemaquid in 2011 and charged with theft, Swank’s retirement nest egg was gone — all except for 37 cents.
“I had a pretty good portfolio that I thought would take care of me in my old age. It’s gone,” said Swank, who is now 85 years old. “I never, ever thought he’d take me for the ride he did.”
On June 12, Swank was awarded a $1.3 million civil judgment against Chapman in Lincoln County Superior Court. Chapman is serving a five-year sentence for his crimes against Swank, and according to Denis Culley, an attorney for Maine Legal Services for the Elderly who represented Swank in the civil lawsuit, he has little or no ability to pay.
Swank, who spent most of her life working as a financial bookkeeper, is in financial ruins. She is behind on payments to credit card companies for expenses accrued on behalf of Chapman, and owes her landlord and Central Maine Power Co. thousands of dollars. She owes $60,000 in state and federal taxes for money she withdrew from stocks and IRAs and gave to Chapman. At an age when most of her peers are relaxing in retirement, Swank worked for the first part of this year as a bookkeeper for a local business in hopes of paying down some of her debts.
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Elder abuse case in Lincoln County exposes pattern of manipulation