Hired to help, accused of theft

Clearwater police say a caretaker took more than $8,000 from an elderly client.

Published March 30, 2007

CLEARWATER - Janny Tomlin got the job, as many caretakers do, by virtue of a recommendation.

But while caring for an elderly woman with diminished mental capacity, Tomlin stole more than $8,000 from her in less than a year, police said Thursday.

Tomlin, 55, who lives on Clearwater Beach, was hired in May to care for a woman in her 90s who lives alone in nearby Island Estates, police Detective William Smith said. Tomlin was recommended to the woman's niece by the elderly woman's neighbors and their families.

As caretaker, Tomlin was to help the woman with personal errands, including shopping for groceries and taking her to doctors, Smith said. Tomlin also had access to signed checks, which she began depositing into her own bank account, Smith said.

When questioned by police, Tomlin said the woman wanted to pay her extra money, Smith said. But he said the older woman's condition is such that she could not have consented to any such raises.

"It's disturbing to me that someone would take advantage of such a vulnerable person," the detective said. "We know how she did it. We just don't know why."

The St. Petersburg Times is not revealing the elderly woman's name because of her vulnerability and the nature of the crime.

The woman's niece discovered the missing money when reviewing bank statements, Smith said. She notified authorities Feb. 7.

Smith said he is contacting Tomlin's other clients.

Tomlin was booked Wednesday into the Pinellas County Jail on charges of exploitation of the elderly and possession of hydrocodone. She was released early Thursday after posting $20,000 bail. Efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.

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

To help

Anyone with information on Janny Tomlin is asked to call Clearwater police Detective William Smith at 562-4315.

Elderly exploitation

Tips to avoid becoming a victim, or having a loved one become a victim, of elderly financial exploitation:

- Set up protective mechanisms to prevent exploitation, such as a contract with a close friend or family member. Get more than one person involved, if you can, so that there are checks and balances.

- Set up an advance directive for finances, a durable power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for health care and a living will.

- Meet with a professional estate planner or an attorney if you need help.

- If you hire a caregiver, have a trusted person oversee the relationship to ensure that nothing suspicious is occurring.

- Try to hire a caregiver through an agency that provides referrals, such as the Area Agency on Aging at 813 740-3888. Try not to hire a caregiver through classified ads.

- Do a background check on caregivers. If you hire a caregiver through an agency, see what the agency's background checks include. If you are not satisfied, do a criminal background check yourself.

- Check a caregiver's references to make sure they are legitimate. Meet the caregiver personally.

- Don't allow caregivers to become involved in financial matters. Be tight-lipped about money. If you must get someone involved in finances, make sure he or she is a certified financial planner.

- Caretakers do not necessarily need to be licensed. Get a licensed social worker if you can.

Source: Times reporting