Woman, 80, nearly loses her savings

An alert banker helps prevent the woman from being victimized in an apparent scheme.

Published April 13, 2007

SEMINOLE - Virginia Hedden will always be grateful for the alert banker at the Fifth Third Bank in Indian Shores.

The banker prevented Hedden's 80-year-old sister-in-law, Virginia Heath, from losing her life's savings and prompted a sting operation that has led to one arrest.

According to Pinellas County sheriff's investigators and Hedden, the scheme began when Heath, who has Alzheimer's disease, sent a card to a company inquiring about in-home health care.

James Belliveau and another man, who represented two different companies, visited Heath at her Seminole home. Each talked her into a one-year service contract, Hedden said.

Heath wrote Belliveau's company a check for $3,643 and the other a check for $3,105. She also made out a $60,000 check to the "trustees" for a cash machine company.

When the men went to a Fifth Third to deposit the checks, Belliveau, 49, presented a typed document that allegedly gave him the power to cash in a $85,000 certificate of deposit to cover the $60,000 check because there was only $8,000 in Heath's checking account.

Hedden said she thinks the document was forged because Heath can't use a typewriter and doesn't have a computer.

"I guess it sent off a lot of flags to (the bank)," Hedden said. "They stopped it right there."

The bank also called Hedden's husband in Georgia, who is Heath's brother.

"The next morning, we're in our car driving down here," Hedden said. "My husband broke down in tears on the way down here in the car."

The two met with the bankers in November and reported the situation to the sheriff. They returned to Georgia, taking Heath with them.

In January, Hedden came down to close up her sister-in-law's house and Belliveau called. He suggested meeting with Hedden. Hedden agreed to the meeting and took along a sheriff's detective.

Hedden said that during the conversation, Belliveau admitted knowing how much was in Heath's checking account and about her CD. He also said he had looked in her refrigerator to make sure she had enough to eat.

He told investigators he was going to invest in the cash machine company on Heath's behalf, said Pinellas County sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.

Belliveau, of Seminole, was arrested March 13 and charged with one count of exploitation of the elderly. He is scheduled to be arraigned April 30.

Both in-home health care companies have been cooperative and are not suspected of wrongdoing, Pasha said. One of the companies never received its money for the in-home health care. The other returned the money.

The investigation is ongoing, she said.

"Thank goodness that bank employee became suspicious of that particular transaction," Pasha said. "The money was never touched, fortunately."

Hedden said she hopes her sister-in-law's experience acts as a warning to other seniors to be wary of solicitations. She also said that family members need to keep a close eye on what is happening with their relatives.