William Price, 57, of Linwood, pleaded guilty today to a second-degree charge of theft by deception before Superior Court Judge Michael A. Donio in Atlantic County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Price be sentenced to five years in state prison. He must pay full restitution of the $125,000 he stole. Judge Donio scheduled sentencing for Price for Sept. 18.
Price 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.
Price was indicted on March 16 along with Jan Van Holt, 59, of Linwood, owner of A Better Choice, a company that offered elderly clients in-home care and legal financial planning; Sondra Steen, 60, of Linwood, Van Holt’s sister, who helped run the company; and Susan Hamlett, 56, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked as an aide for company clients. A physician, Dr. Maria Teresa S. Daclan, 53, of Galloway Township, is charged with lying to State Police during the investigation. Van Holt and Steen allegedly conspired with Barbara Lieberman, 63, of Northfield, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, to steal over $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients from January 2003 through December 2012. Lieberman pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced on March 25 to 10 years in prison, including 3 ½ years of parole ineligibility. She forfeited $3 million in assets as well as her law license.
In pleading guilty, Price admitted he stole $125,000 from a couple he met in 2006 through his job as a caseworker for Atlantic County. Price, who worked with Van Holt at Adult Protective Services, befriended the elderly couple and recruited them as clients for Van Holt, Steen and Lieberman, who allegedly stole more than $800,000 from the couple. Price received $125,000 of the stolen funds.
“Price callously betrayed the trust and friendship of an elderly couple to enrich himself,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “As a social worker, he should have been all about helping them, but instead he set them up to have their savings stolen by him and his co-defendants.”
“Anyone who targets the elderly for fraud deserves stern punishment, but Price’s conduct was even more egregious because he victimized an ailing couple he encountered in his official position as a case worker for Adult Protective Services,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice.
“Price’s actions strike a particularly sour chord because he was supposed to be on the front lines of protecting the rights of the very people he helped to victimize,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “I am proud of the work by my detectives and all involved who delivered justice to the responsible criminals in this case.”
The charges against Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett are pending. Hamlett is charged in connection with a single client, a woman from whom Lieberman, Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett allegedly conspired to steal about $112,000. 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 alleged 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.
It is alleged that Van Holt generally was the one to identify potential clients, approaching them to offer the services of A Better Choice and Lieberman. The defendants allegedly 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. In the case of the elderly couple connected to Price, Price also provided extensive assistance, particularly with household repairs. 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 allegedly 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 allegedly 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 continued 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 allegedly relied on fraud, manipulation or forgery in the execution of the wills. In this manner, they allegedly continued to steal from the victims’ estates after they died.
Lieberman and Van Holt were arrested on March 19, 2014. Van Holt previously was arrested with Steen and Hamlett on Dec. 20, 2012, in connection with one victim. The investigation began after the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian referred the case of that victim to the State Police. In addition to the first-degree conspiracy and money laundering charges against Van Holt and Steen, they are charged along with Hamlett with second-degree counts of conspiracy, money laundering and theft. The charges are merely accusations and the remaining defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller is handling the state’s forfeiture action. Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian for its referral.