A prominent Atlantic County lawyer and a social worker have been charged with preying on elderly clients in South Jersey and bilking more than $2 million from 10 victims, authorities announced Thursday.
Barbara Lieberman, 62, of Northfield, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, and Jan Van Holt, 57, of Linwood, were arrested Wednesday on charges that included money laundering, conspiracy, and theft, said acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman.
Two other women are also charged in an ongoing investigation that may yield additional victims, he said. Efforts to reach the defendants were unsuccessful.
Hoffman identified Van Holt and Lieberman as the ringleaders. Van Holt previously was a caseworker for the Atlantic County Adult Protective Services and operated A Better Choice, an in-home senior care company, and Lieberman gave seminars to senior citizens. The two women would refer their clients to each other, he said.
Authorities allege that the defendants targeted elderly clients who had substantial assets and would offer financial and legal services. They forged a power of attorney or obtained it through false pretenses to take control of bank accounts, Hoffman said.
"It is simply hard to fathom the greed," Hoffman said.
Lieberman allegedly would draft wills for the victims, sometimes giving herself the power of attorney, Hoffman said. Stocks or bonds were cashed out, and the funds were deposited into accounts controlled by the defendants, he said.
In an effort to cover up the alleged thefts, funds were transferred from one victim to another, Hoffman said. Some of the funds were used to pay legitimate expenses for the victims, allegedly to keep the victim unaware of the thefts, he said.
A 94-year-old woman whose name was not released died in a nursing home where she was forced to live after the defendants allegedly put a $195,000 reverse mortgage on her home, Hoffman said. She could not afford the payments after her assets were allegedly stolen, he said.
The alleged thefts began in 2006 and continued through 2013. The victims lived in Atlantic and Cape May Counties. Most were in their 80s and 90s and had few, if any, relatives nearby, making them vulnerable to the scheme, Hoffman said.
Authorities began investigating after a tip from the Office of the Public Guardian for Elderly Adults. Hoffman declined to provide additional details about what prompted the referral.
Hoffman said the defendants allegedly stole the victims' life savings in many cases and used the stolen funds to pay their own expenses.
Van Holt allegedly purchased two Mercedes cars and a Florida condo and used the funds for pool supplies and veterinary bills, the prosecutor said. Lieberman allegedly paid off six-figure credit-card bills. The defendants also used the funds to travel extensively and for shopping sprees at Nordstrom, the prosecutor said.
In some cases, the defendants allegedly executed the wills of some victims and continued to siphon funds from their estates after they died, Hoffman said. Only one of the 10 victims is alive, he said.
"We're supposed to honor our elders, but these women heartlessly exploited them, allegedly stripping them of their life savings and their ability to live out their final days in comfort, peace, and dignity," Hoffman said at a news conference in his Voorhees office.
Lieberman and Van Holt were being held in the Atlantic County Jail on $300,000 bail each. The state has frozen $5 million in assets held by Lieberman in various accounts.
Lieberman and her attorney did not return telephone messages seeking comment. Van Holt could not be reached.
A man who answered the telephone at Lieberman's Linwood law office said she would be away for several days because she was "rather traumatized by the turn of events."
Van Holt's sister, Sondra Steen, 58, of Linwood, who helped run her company, was previously charged with theft by deception in the case involving the 94-year-old woman. It is alleged that she falsely claimed to be the victim's niece in the reverse-mortgage application.
Susan Hamlett, 55, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked for Van Holt as an aide, was also charged with theft involving two victims, Hoffman said. She no longer works for Van Holt.
Steen and Hamlett are free on bail. Hamlett did not return a telephone message. A listing for Steen had been disconnected.
Anyone who suspects that they may have had assets stolen can contact the Division of Criminal Justice at 1-866-TIPS-4CJ.