|David & Vera Mann|
All gone, now.
Over the course of six months last year, she and her husband, David, say, three nurses caring for him in their Kalorama home systematically made off with more than half a million dollars’ worth of their belongings. The Manns, both 91, have filed a $4 million civil suit against the nurses and two home health-care agencies, seeking compensation for the missing items — from bath towels to priceless family heirlooms — and for the distress it caused them. An investigation by D.C. police is also underway.
The alleged disappearances, and the length of time over which they occurred, highlight a growing problem as more Americans age and require in-home care: The more dependent they are on caregivers, the harder it is to confront them when there is a problem. And crime allegations can be hard to prosecute if it’s the word of the residents against that of the caregivers.
A bill being considered in the District may help, making it a crime to use “undue influence” in the financial abuse of a vulnerable adult, including people 65 or older. Thirty-five states have statutes criminalizing the financial exploitation of older or incapacitated persons, and at least nine have laws defining undue influence in their criminal codes.
The bill passed an initial D.C. Council vote last week, and the council expects to take a final vote this month or next. If it passes, advocates say it will make such cases easier to prosecute, particularly in situations involving coercion or in those in which it isn’t clear whether a crime has been committed.
The Manns’ three-story D.C. townhouse, with a soaring, custom-built atrium that Vera hand-painted in Italian-style trompe l’oeil, is filled with items collected over a lifetime of travel and overseas stints: He is a former assistant secretary of the Navy and she is a psychologist. The nurses were provided by Maryland-based Capital City Nurses, hired by their son in March 2015 after gastric bypass surgery left David in need of round-the-clock care.
When small kitchen items began to vanish, the couple said they initially assumed they had been misplaced. But then the disappearances became more glaring, they said. A Limoges china planter. A silver fish platter. An expensive eelskin briefcase that hadn’t left the house in 25 years. And finally, the couple said, jewelry and furs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars vanished, including pieces Vera’s mother brought over from Russia around the time of the Titanic disaster.
“Those things, and the house itself as a safe environment that she had designed, were an important world to her, so to have a lot of the components of that world lost, to be invaded like that, was very traumatic for her,” said their son, James Mann. For his father, he said, “it’s more a matter of a violation of trust, that people who came in on the basis of they were going to take care of him didn’t do their job.”
By September, David was nailing boards across the kitchen cupboards and Vera was hiding valuables in locked rooms the caregivers were not supposed to enter. That didn’t work — they allege that locked closets were forceably opened, and Vera said she awoke one night to find one of the caregivers in her bedroom, rummaging through boxes.
When the Manns called Capital City Nurses to report what was happening, they said, they were not taken seriously.
“They said, ‘Oh no, our people don’t do such things,’ ” David said.
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Elderly couple’s $4 million suit accuses caregivers of major household theft