The couple signed a durable power of attorney giving their son, Ryan Todd Powers, access to their finances. When Ryan sold their home in Alva, Fla., the $72,000 was supposed to be used for remodeling the Lehigh Acres, Fla., home and for his parents' income and care.
Documents filed with the Lee County (Fla.) Circuit Court tell a different story. According to the records, the younger Powers spent the money and his mother's Social Security to buy pizza, rent movies and pay for his cellphone. He left his parents in nursing homes refusing to pay the bills. And when William Powers died, the son wouldn’t pay the funeral home. William Powers' body went unclaimed for 90 days. Finally, Lee County picked up the remains and Powers was cremated at taxpayer expense.
In September, a jury found Ryan Powers, 41, guilty on four counts of first-degree exploitation involving an elderly person. He faces up to 60 years in prison. On Monday, two years to the day that he opened a fraudulent checking account in his mother's name and began his scheme to defraud, Powers was sentenced to 20 years in state prison.
Power of attorney
Ryan was Janet and William's only living child. Janet thought William coddled him too much. She questioned the wisdom of buying a home for Ryan, his wife, Brandy, and their children to live in, she told Earl Rutland, a law enforcement investigator in the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. But she went along with her husband's plan.
The couple, both in their early 70s, paid an attorney to draft a Durable Power of Attorney giving Ryan control over their financial and legal affairs. Two months later, Ryan redirected Janet Powers' $808 monthly benefit checks from the couple's joint checking account to the one in his and his mother's names. Over the next 10 months, Ryan used a debit card 136 times to tap the account for cash and to pay for purchases at places such as convenience stores and a pawn shop.
In early 2016, William Powers told Ryan to sell the couple's trailer in Alva and use the proceeds to remodel the Lehigh house, still in the elder Powers' names, so they could move out of the nursing homes and live together.
William was in a nursing home in North Fort Myers, Fla., more than 100 miles away from his wife, who had been moved to a nursing home in St. Petersburg. It was the nearest one that agreed to take a patient on Medicaid, the government program that pays for health care for people who have little or no money.
In order to qualify Janet for Medicaid, the nursing home needed financial information. Ryan wouldn't supply it but did give the nursing home bank statements that appeared fraudulent, prompting a call to the state Department of Children and Families Adult Protective Services.
To catch a thief
Janet Powers told the Department of Children and Families investigator she believed her son was stealing her money.
Ryan told another investigator he only used the bank account to pay his mother's bills. He had sold the trailer, he said, for $60,000 and it had a mortgage of $50,000 and he had to pay taxes on the sale.
The investigation by Rutland, the agent with the Attorney General's office, showed the home sold for $72,000. Most of the money, minus $6,000 in cash given to Ryan, was deposited into William and Janet's bank account. The buyers paid the trailer park fees and taxes.
Wells Fargo's anti-fraud program wouldn't let Ryan access the money until the buyers' check cleared. Four days later, he withdrew $50,000 from his parents' joint account, putting the money on a cashiers check. He went back to the bank several times, cashing the check, getting cash, and then getting another cashier's check for the difference.
William Powers told Rutland he didn't know what happened to the money from the sale of the trailer.
He wanted to be with his wife. He wanted to revoke his son's power of attorney.
A week later, on July 5, 2016, William Powers died. The nursing home had been paid for July and because William had died on the fifth, Ryan was looking for the refund. He needed it to pay the funeral expenses, he told the business manager at the nursing home. The manager, "did not believe he would do so," Rutland wrote in his affidavit. "She tried to persuade him to let her pay the funeral home, but he refused."
Ryan picked up the $3,722.50 refund check from the nursing home and cashed it at a check cashing store. The funeral home was never paid and the county cremated William Powers.
In late November 2016, Ryan filed a handwritten quit claim deed to take ownership of the Lehigh Acres house, which was in his parents' names. His mother didn't sign the deed and his father was dead. Ryan Powers signed for both as the power of attorney.
The younger Powers was arrested in December and charged with exploitation of the elderly. He was released the next day, but in January was arrested again for grand theft for continuing to use the power of attorney to sell his parents' truck.
During the trial, Ryan testified he was acting at the behest of his father. His dad had told him not to pay his mother's nursing home bills, to sell the Alva home and to transfer ownership of the Lehigh Acre house, he said.
The jury didn't buy it. And on Sept. 1, after a four-day trial, Ryan Todd Powers was convicted of four counts of exploitation of the elderly.
Financial exploitation of the elderly is not unusual. That the perpetrator of the crime was a relative isn't either. What makes this case unusual is that the victim came forward and law enforcement pursued it.
"Those are the two highest hurdles to get over," said David Kessler, a certified fraud investigator who trains law enforcement to investigate crimes against the elderly. "Tracking the money and dealing with the perpetrator," is the easy part, he said. The difficulty comes in getting victims to implicate their loved ones and getting law enforcement to recognize this as a crime and not a civil or "family matter."
The crimes leave the victims not only destitute but traumatized. "It goes far deeper than monetary value, the (perpetrator) has raped those people emotionally. He's stolen their dignity."
"The only good thing about (the Powers) story," Kessler said, "is the elderly gentleman wasn't alive to realize his son didn't care about him even in death."
Powers' mother did not speak at Monday'shearing. Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Royal read the statement Janet Powers wrote.
"You dumped us both in separate nursing homes, so we could not even see each other and spend our last days together," Janet Powers' statement read. "You abandoned us like last week's trash."
As Royal read, Powers began to quietly cry. With his hands handcuffed and chained to a shackle around his waist, he used a tissue to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Powers had taken their cellphones so she and her husband, whom she called "Rusty," couldn't even talk to each other, Janet Powers wrote in her victim statement. She didn't have money to buy clothes and wore hand-me-downs from people in the nursing home who had passed away.
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Son fleeces elderly parents: Mom left in nursing home, dad at funeral home