It is a family’s worst nightmare: You hire someone to help care for your elderly parent and then you find out this so called “caregiver” stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. This happened to a Jacksonville family recently. Edwards Whitehead, who was 91 years old, died without any of his six children in attendance. Why? Dementia was robbing him of his memory and an attendant was allegedly draining his bank account.
The family says that Diane Harvell portrayed herself as a caregiver, but instead of caring for Mr. Whitehead, she alienated him from his family and drained all of his bank accounts.
Harvell was hired to provide transportation for Lewis’ father and help with small tasks. What happened next is a warning inspectors have for all families.
Investigators said Harvell convinced the elder Whitehead to sign over his power of attorney. She then altered his will and forged notary public signatures — all without his family knowing. When the 91-year-old died, his family learned the truth. Even though they learned the truth once he was deceased, Harvell had already filed a forged will.
Postal inspectors began poring 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,” said Van de Putte of the Postal Office. Investigators said her control and his dementia were a terrible combination. “Senior citizens generally have savings, or a decent amount of money, and are generally easy targets because they are very trusting,” Van de Putte explained. 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 pay attention. “Be wary of any new person coming into your life, especially if you are dealing with a senior citizen, or a parent or grandparent that suffers from dementia (or) Alzheimer’s,” said Van de Putte.
Harvell faces mail theft, ID theft, mail fraud, forgery and several other charges. Postal inspectors said she could face up to 15 years in prison.
After reading this article, you may ask what exactly is elder abuse?
Abuse may be physical, mental, emotional, or sexual. Neglect can be self-neglect or neglect by a caregiver. A caregiver may be a family member, an in-home paid worker, a staff person of a program such as an adult day care center or of a facility such as a nursing home, or another person. Exploitation means that a person in a position of trust knowingly, by deception and intimidation, obtains and uses or tries to obtain and use a vulnerable person’s funds, assets, or property. This includes failure to use the vulnerable person’s income and assets to provide for the necessities required for that person’s care.
Groups most at risk for elder abuse include:
Individual characteristics include:
The more of the following observable indicators are present, the greater the risk:
Florida Law requires that any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline on the toll-free telephone number, 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). The TDD (Telephone Device for the Deaf) number for reporting adult abuse is 1-800-955-8770. Vulnerable adults are persons eighteen and over (including senior adults sixty and over) who, because of their age or disability, may be unable to adequately provide for their own care or protection. The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts calls 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The Abuse Hotline counselor is required to let the person calling know whether the information provided has been accepted as a report for investigation.
When you call the Abuse Hotline to make a report, have this information ready: