Six people, including a doctor, a lawyer, and the operators of an elder-care service, conspired to steal millions from senior citizens who had no relatives looking after them, New Jersey authorities alleged Tuesday in announcing indictments.
The state Attorney General's Office announced the indictments of Jan Van Holt, 58, owner of A Better Choice, an Atlantic County business whose services included assisting the elderly with financial matters; her sister Sondra Steen, 59, who helped operate the business; an aide, Susan Hamlett, 56; Maria Teresa S. Daclan, 53, of Galloway Township, a doctor; and William Price, 57, of Linwood, a former caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services.
Van Holt and Steen, of Linwood, and Hamlett, of Egg Harbor Township, face charges of conspiracy, money laundering, theft, and official misconduct.
The case has garnered attention because the sixth individual, lawyer Barbara Lieberman, 63, of Northfield, who already has pleaded guilty to money laundering in the scheme, is prominent in Atlantic County.
"Van Holt and Steen insinuated themselves into the lives of their elderly clients by posing as compassionate and trustworthy caregivers, all the while allegedly plotting to steal their life savings," acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in a news release.
"In some cases, these sisters allegedly deprived their vulnerable victims of the ability to live out their final days in comfort and dignity, callously draining away the victims' funds to pay for their own pets, swimming pool, expensive cars, and Florida condo," he said.
Daclan was accused of hindering apprehension or prosecution. A woman who answered the phone in the office where Daclan works said, "I doubt she wants to speak to the press," and hung up.
Although Lieberman has not been sentenced, she turned herself in and is serving time in the Atlantic County Jail because she wants to do what's right, said her attorney, Steven J. Feldman.
"From day one she has been very remorseful for what she had done, and she was going to make it right and to make full restitution," Feldman said, noting that Lieberman agreed to make restitution of $3 million, which is beyond the amount taken.
Lieberman faces 10 years in state prison, including 3½ years of parole ineligibility, authorities said. She is to be sentenced next Wednesday.
Price is charged with conspiracy, money laundering, theft, and official misconduct.
"I can't believe it," Price said upon learning from a reporter that he was indicted. "If anything, I'm looking out for the elderly."
Price said he had a suspicion something was wrong, but said he never took money as alleged.
"I'm clearly innocent," Price said, noting that as a caseworker he had to interact with the others. "I had nothing to do with this case."
Authorities painted a much different picture, alleging that the scheme targeted older individuals who were vulnerable because they had no relatives, or none to assist them with financial matters. A Better Choice provided in-home services such as assistance with chores and financial matters.
One of the clients, a 94-year-old woman, died in a nursing home after a $195,000 reverse mortgage was surreptitiously taken out on her home, authorities said.
Efforts to reach Van Holt, Steen, and Hamlett for comment were unsuccessful.
"Con artists frequently target the elderly because of their vulnerability and accumulated assets," Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice said in the news release. "This is a particularly egregious case of elder fraud."
Authorities said Van Holt - a county caseworker from 2002 until she was fired in 2007 - and Steen conspired with Lieberman to steal more than $2.7 million from 12 clients between January 2003 and December 2012.
Hamlett is charged with allegedly targeting one client from whom $112,000 was stolen. Price is charged in the case of an elderly couple. Authorities said he received $125,000 of $800,000 stolen from the couple.
"These individuals allegedly preyed on vulnerable, elderly victims and betrayed their trust, in order to funnel stolen money into their own greedy pockets," said Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, which participated in the investigation.
"This particular case of elder fraud is especially sinister, due to the conspiracy charges against so many defendants who held such highly respected positions in society," Fuentes said.