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Authorities are looking into whether the caregiver stole from other patients.
By JOEL ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
Published January 17, 2008
BROOKSVILLE - Charlene Feldy never really trusted her new home aide from the start and she tried, as best she could, to keep the woman at a distance.
But Feldy said Wednesday that she let her guard down gradually as she tried to recover from the death of her husband in May 2006, and the persistent aches and pains from back and hip injuries. In time, authorities say, the caregiver somehow obtained power of attorney from her 76-year-old patient.
"I had a feeling something was not quite right," Feldy said. "Things just kept popping up."
Authorities have accused Barbara Smith, 61, of Spring Hill, of bilking Feldy of more than $40,000 while working at her home. Hernando investigators are also looking into whether Smith may have defrauded other clients while working as their caregiver.
Smith was arrested Tuesday and faces one count of exploitation of the elderly, according to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office arrest report. She was released from the county jail Wednesday after posting a $5,000 bond.
Smith declined to comment about the case when reached at her Spring Hill home on Wednesday. "You'll just have to do this without my help," Smith said.
Smith started working for Feldy about a year and a half ago through an assignment from Interim Healthcare, a large Florida-based home care services provider with an office in Spring Hill. Feldy eventually stopped using Interim and personally hired Smith, authorities said in the arrest report.
An employee at Interim refused to comment when reached at the Spring Hill office Wednesday afternoon.
Smith noticed that some of Feldy's family members had stolen money from her and obtained power of attorney by hiring a notary to come over to the home and sign the document, according to the arrest report.
Over the next few months, authorities say, Smith began taking money from Feldy's bank account. Among other things, Smith allegedly paid her son more than $900 to trim hedges and pull weeds around the home; gave the son a check for $1,250 claiming it was a loan but never repaid the money; and cashed a check for more than $3,000 claiming it was to pay Smith's property taxes.
All told, Smith took about $25,000 in cash from Feldy, according to the arrest report. She also is accused of paying Feldy $1,500 for her 1998 Mercedes Benz E-320 - a car valued at about $13,800, selling the car two months later for $12,000 and keeping the profit.
Authorities have also accused Smith of issuing two checks totaling $5,500 from Smith to another patient. Smith then had the 85-year-old woman cash the checks and took the money, authorities said.
Feldy said she eventually grew suspicious enough that she took her concerns to the authorities. She had gone for too long without actually seeing her own checkbook.
"What all has happened to me, I don't know," Feldy said. "But I was just getting fed up. I knew she was stealing money and I couldn't prove it."
Smith has already confessed to the alleged crimes, according to the report. She has been previously arrested for fraud and having insufficient funds in May 2005 and for driving under the influence in March.
Meanwhile, Feldy may have already been defrauded out of more than $100,000 in the year-and-a-half before Smith's alleged thefts. Hernando detectives are working with authorities in Illinois to investigate family members there who may have stolen from Feldy, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Donna Black said.
Feldy said she is down to about $8,000 in savings and will depend heavily on a her late husband's monthly pension check.
"But I've got bills to pay every month. And I have to eat," she said. "I thought this only happened to rich people."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 754-6120.
[Last modified January 16, 2008, 20:44:55]