A Springfield, Delaware County, woman stole more than $337,000 from her elderly mother and spent the money on her interior design business, a gym membership, cell phone charges, and other personal expenses, authorities said Monday.
Bernadette Branson-Lawler, 52, of Meetinghouse Lane, was charged with theft and related crimes, the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said.
Over seven years, she used her role as her mother’s power of attorney, and later legal guardian, to steal from the 78-year-old, who lives in a Delaware County assisted living facility, suffers from dementia, and is nonverbal, authorities said.
“Our older residents deserve to fully enjoy their well-earned retirement without fear of being victimized,” District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland said in a statement. “In this case, Bernadette Branson-Lawler stole that liberty from her own mother, who is not able to speak for herself, betraying the trust of the entire family, and stealing her mother’s life savings for her own leisure and selfish pursuits.”
Prosecutors began investigating Branson-Lawler in September 2017 after receiving a tip about possible financial exploitation.
Investigators found that Branson-Lawler had been appointed her mother’s power of attorney after her father’s death in 2009. A few years later, she sold her mother’s Springfield home for $269,000 and moved her mom to the assisted living facility.
In July 2013, Branson-Lawler went to Delaware County Orphans' Court and successfully petitioned to become her mother’s guardian because of health issues, including worsening dementia. Four years later, she failed to file required yearly paperwork and didn’t appear in court, so a court-appointed attorney reviewed the financial records of Branson-Lawler’s mother, authorities said. The attorney noticed suspicious withdrawals, prompting Branson-Lawler to admit that she used that money for her own expenses — including her electric and insurance bills, her interior design business, and cell phone charges — and that she would write herself checks, authorities said.
Branson-Lawler was then removed as her mother’s guardian and a criminal investigation began.
In part through forensic analysis of financial records, investigators determined she stole $337,715.61 between January 2011 and 2017.
Branson-Lawler could not be reached for comment Monday. No lawyer for her was listed on court documents.
She was released on $100,000 unsecured bail and awaits a preliminary hearing next Tuesday.
The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office asks anyone who thinks an elderly resident is being taken advantage of to contact the Senior Exploitation Unit at 610-891-5249 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.