Caregiver accused of taking $100,000 savings

Published March 8, 2007

PALM HARBOR - Julia E. Mussen's job was to care for an elderly blind man, manage his money and pay his bills, authorities said.

Instead, Mussen, 27, used the man's money to pay her expenses, go shopping and take personal trips to Las Vegas, New Jersey and the Bahamas, authorities said. For four years, she bilked her employer, an 80-year-old Palm Harbor man, of all his retirement savings - more than $100,000, they said.

Deputies arrested Mussen Wednesday on a charge of exploitation of an elderly or disabled person. She was being held in the Pinellas County Jail Wednesday in lieu of $100,000 bail. A man who answered the phone number she provided to officials declined to comment on the charges.

The St. Petersburg Times is withholding the name of the victim because of the nature of the crime.

The victim's son, Steve Turner, said his father treated Mussen like a daughter and trusted her completely. Turner said he had been fooled by how affectionate and protective Mussen appeared toward his father.

"This all broke his heart as much as his wallet," Turner said. "He had genuinely cared about her. When he found out, he kept saying, 'I can't believe she would do this to me.' "

His father, a scientist, hired Mussen as a secretary and personal assistant in 2000, Turner said. The following year, with his eyesight failing, his father gave her access to his bank account so she could manage his finances.

From January 2001 to January 2006, authorities say, Mussen used the man's money on everything from plane tickets to power bills to attorney's fees related to a 2003 charge of driving under the influence.

Turner said he became suspicious of Mussen in December 2005 when he saw her scold his father for going out to eat so often. Mussen kept shouting that his father couldn't afford it.

Turner then reviewed several months of his father's bank statements, found the unauthorized purchases and alerted deputies.

"I wished I checked up sooner," he said. "There's a message in this. If you want to trust people, trust people. But when it comes to your finances, always double check."

Turner doesn't know how he will care for his father now; he lives in an 800-square-foot house and he refuses to put his father in a nursing home.

"She took away my ability to take care of my father in the end of his life," he said.

Jacob H. Fries can be reached at 445-4156 or jfries@sptimes.com.