Jan Van Holt, 60, of Linwood, former owner of “A Better Choice,” a firm that offered elderly clients in-home care and legal financial planning, was sentenced today to 12 years in state prison, including 5 ½ years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. in Atlantic County. She pleaded guilty on April 12 to first-degree money laundering. Van Holt is jointly and severally liable for full restitution in an amount to be determined.
Van Holt was charged in an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice. Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher prosecuted Van Holt and the other defendants and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. Detective Richard Wheeler led the investigation for the New Jersey State Police Financial Crimes Unit.
Van Holt was indicted on March 16, 2015 along with her sister, Sondra Steen, 61, of Linwood, who helped run A Better Choice, and two other individuals who worked for her company. Van Holt and Steen conspired with Barbara Lieberman, 64, of Northfield, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, to steal over $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients from 2003 through 2012. Lieberman pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced on March 25, 2015 to 10 years in state prison, including 3 ½ years of parole ineligibility. Lieberman forfeited $3 million in assets and her law license. Steen pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering and was sentenced on March 4 to 10 years in state prison, including 4 ½ years of parole ineligibility. In pleading guilty, Van Holt admitted she conspired with her sister and Lieberman in carrying out the scheme to steal from clients of A Better Choice.
“The seniors who chose Van Holt’s in-home care company ‘A Better Choice’ unwittingly made the worst possible choice, a choice that meant their life savings were callously stolen to enrich Van Holt and her co-defendants,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Van Holt deserves this lengthy sentence because she coldly exploited the infirmities of her clients and utterly violated the moral precept that we should respect our elders. We will continue to seek harsh punishments for defendants who prey on our vulnerable senior citizens.”
“We’ve now secured prison sentences of 10 years or more for the three main defendants in this case, with Van Holt receiving the longest term for her central role in this multi-million dollar theft scheme,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “These lengthy prison sentences should serve as a stern warning to those who would prey on vulnerable senior citizens.”
“Jan Van Holt will spend at least 5 ½ years in prison contemplating how she could have made better choices than the ones that landed her behind bars,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The intricate scheme contrived by the defendants was not only unethical, but it took full advantage of elderly victims at their most vulnerable time.”
The other defendants who were indicted with Van Holt and Steen were Susan Hamlett, 57, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked as an aide for clients of A Better Choice, and William Price, 58, of Linwood. Price pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme and stealing $125,000 from a couple he met while working as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services. He was sentenced last year to five years in state prison. Hamlett pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal more than $100,000 from a single client, an elderly woman, and she was sentenced on Oct. 21 to three years in state 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 New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian referred a case involving one of the victims to the State Police. Attorney General Porrino thanked the Office of the Public Guardian for its referral. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller handled the state’s forfeiture action.
Defense Attorney: Jill Cohen, Esq., Haddon Township.
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