TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor today announced that a Pennsylvania woman has been charged with stealing nearly $78,000 from an elderly relative who suffers from dementia and resides in a long-term care facility in Warren County, New Jersey.
Deanna Attinello, 23, of Easton, Pennsylvania, was charged with second-degree misapplication of entrusted property and theft by failure to make a required disposition of property in connection with funds allegedly stolen from an 86-year-old great aunt under her legal guardianship. The charges were contained in an indictment handed up by a state Grand Jury in Trenton last week.
In January 2017, Attinello was appointed by a court to be her great aunt’s legal guardian and given unfettered access to the woman’s financial assets to pay for her care and expenses at a long-term care facility in Warren Township.
Prosecutors allege that just days following her appointment as guardian, Attinello began withdrawing large amounts of cash from the elderly woman’s account and writing checks to herself, her boyfriend, and her father. Within four months Attinello had drained over $77,000 from her great aunt’s account, leaving the elderly woman with just under $26,000, according to prosecutors.
“Financial abuse of the elderly is a despicable crime all too often committed by family members who mask their nefarious motives under a cloak of familial duty,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We allege that the defendant shamelessly exploited her position as her aunt’s trusted guardian to raid the woman’s bank account for own her personal use.”
The indictments were obtained by OIFP’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which receives federal funding to investigate and prosecute Medicaid provider fraud as well as the abuse or neglect of Medicaid patients, or patients who reside in facilities that receive Medicaid funding.
“The defendant’s alleged actions were not only criminal, they were unimaginably cruel because the stolen funds were intended to ensure her elderly aunt would be properly cared for as she suffered the ravages of dementia,” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Christopher Iu. “We will continue to protect New Jersey’s most vulnerable citizens by investigating and bringing charges against those who prey on them in institutional settings.”
According to the allegations, Attinello was appointed legal guardian of great aunt four months after the elderly woman was diagnosed with dementia and admitted to a long-term residential care facility.
Shortly thereafter, Attinello allegedly changed a PNC Bank account belonging to her great aunt to a guardianship account in both their names.
Five other accounts containing the elderly woman’s assets were allegedly liquidated and the proceeds were deposited into the PNC guardianship account, bringing the total account balance to approximately $229,000.
Prosecutors allege that transactions in an amount over $125,000 were made on behalf of the elderly woman for expenses for her residential care, as well as other related healthcare costs, legal fees, and property taxes and repair. But Attinello allegedly withdrew cash and wrote checks for more than $77,000 that was not used on behalf of her great aunt. According to prosecutors, Attinello kept the majority of the money for herself and distributed smaller amounts to her boyfriend and father.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to ten years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Deputy Attorney General Gina M. Galante presented the case to the grand jury.
Detective Celeste Dowd coordinated the investigation.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Iu thanked the New Jersey Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized for referring the case to the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit within the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Iu noted that some important cases have started with anonymous tips. People who are concerned about insurance cheating and have information about a fraud can report it anonymously by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-877-55-FRAUD, or visiting the Web site at www.NJInsurancefraud.org. State regulations permit a reward to be paid to an eligible person who provides information that leads to an arrest, prosecution and conviction for insurance fraud.
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