Susan Hamlett, 57, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked as an aide for clients of “A Better Choice,” pleaded guilty today on the eve of trial to a charge of second-degree conspiracy before Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. in Atlantic County. In pleading guilty, Hamlett admitted that she conspired with her co-defendants to steal more than $100,000 from a single client, an elderly woman. Under the plea agreement, she faces a state prison sentence in the range of three to five years. Sentencing for Hamlett is scheduled for Oct. 21.
Hamlett was charged in an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice. Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher is prosecuting the defendants and took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. Detective Richard Wheeler led the investigation for the New Jersey State Police Financial Crimes Unit.
Hamlett was indicted on March 16, 2015 along with three co-defendants:
Another defendant, Barbara Lieberman, 64, of Northfield, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, pleaded guilty before the case was indicted. The investigation revealed that from 2003 through 2012, Van Holt and Steen conspired with Lieberman to steal more than $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients. Lieberman and Steen were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Van Holt faces a 12-year sentence. Price was sentenced to five years in prison.
“By stealing the life savings of elderly clients who had no family to look out for them, these defendants placed themselves among the lowest of con artists,” said Attorney General Porrino. “The victims are gone, but we’ve persisted in our quest for justice for them, securing prison terms for all of the perpetrators.”
“This is one of the most egregious cases of elder fraud that we have prosecuted in recent years, both in terms of the amount of money involved and the callous way that these defendants betrayed the trust of their victims,” said Director Elie Honig. “We’ll continue to work with our law enforcement partners to guard the elderly and other vulnerable New Jersey residents.”
“The crimes that these defendants committed were insidious and callous,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The arrest and prosecution of these perpetrators sends a message that the victimization of the most vulnerable members of our society will not be tolerated.”
Lieberman pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering on Nov. 3, 2014. She was sentenced on March 25, 2015 to 10 years in state prison, including 3 ½ years of parole ineligibility. She forfeited $3 million in assets as well as her law license.
Van Holt pleaded guilty on April 12, 2016, to first-degree money laundering and faces a sentence of 12 years in state prison, including 5 ½ years of parole ineligibility. She is awaiting sentencing. Her sister, Steen, pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering and was sentenced on March 4, 2016 to 10 years in prison, including 4 ½ years of parole ineligibility.
Price pleaded guilty to a second-degree theft charge, admitting that he stole $125,000 from a couple he met while working as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services. He was sentenced on Oct. 23, 2015 to five years in prison.
Van Holt worked as a case worker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services from 2002 through December 2007, when she was terminated. Five of the 12 victims targeted by Van Holt, Steen and Lieberman were recruited as clients after they came into contact with Van Holt through her official public position as a case worker.
Van Holt generally was the one to identify potential clients, approaching them to offer the services of A Better Choice and Lieberman. The defendants targeted elderly clients with substantial assets who typically did not have any immediate family, offering them non-medical care and services, including household chores, errands, driving clients to appointments, scheduling, budgeting, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and other tasks. They did not provide healthcare services.
Once a target accepted Van Holt’s offer of services, Steen usually would be put in place as the victim’s primary caregiver. Lieberman would then be brought in to do legal work, preparing powers of attorney and wills for the clients. Lieberman was a leading specialist in elder law in Atlantic County who gave seminars to senior citizens on end of life affairs, wills and living wills. The defendants took control of the finances of their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one on false pretenses. The defendants then added their names to the victims’ bank accounts or transferred the victims’ funds into new accounts they controlled. Thereafter, the defendants stole from the accounts to pay their own expenses, including, for Van Holt and Steen – who lived together – veterinary bills for their pets, pool supplies, two Mercedes cars owned by Van Holt, and lease payments on a Florida condo.
A portion of the money was used to fund the victim’s expenses to keep the victim unaware of the thefts. In some cases, money from one victim would be transferred to another victim to pay expenses and cover up the thefts. If the victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account allegedly controlled by the defendants. When Lieberman prepared wills for the victims, she typically named herself or Van Holt as executor of the estate and named Steen as a beneficiary, or named other beneficiaries who had little or no ties to the victim and never actually received anything from the estate. The defendants relied on fraud, manipulation or forgery in the execution of the wills. In this manner, they continued to steal from the victims’ estates after they died.
The investigation began after the NJ Office of the Public Guardian referred a case involving one of the victims to the State Police. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller handled the state’s forfeiture action.