Caretaker accused of bilking blind widow

Since 2001, authorities say, the93-year-old victim has lost more than $487,000 to a friend.

By Thomas Lake, Times Staff Writer
Published February 21, 2008

LUTZ - Kay Dahman's money paid for fireworks and a parade. She raised it by picking tomatoes and strawberries, by baking and selling 117 cakes.

Kay Dahman's money may have saved a little girl's life. She sent it with missionaries on a trip to Honduras, who spent it on medicine to fight a horrible infection.

Kay Dahman's money began disappearing in 2001. Authorities say it flowed from her account for nearly seven years, without her knowledge and against her will, into the hands of a thieving caretaker.

Dahman is 93 now, widowed, childless and blind. She lost more than $487,000. A sheriff's detective said the caretaker used the money to buy a car and pay her own mortgage.

The scam was discovered when Dahman's friend Teresa Bauer, helping her read her mail, found records of suspicious-looking purchases. The caretaker went to jail on Tuesday, charged with felony theft, organized fraud and exploitation of the elderly. She is Barbara Mulert, a 61-year-old Lutz resident. It was her first arrest in Florida.

Neither Dahman nor Bauer would comment for this story, so it was unclear how Dahman met Mulert or how severely the thefts had depleted Dahman's savings. But another friend, Bev Polzin, said that Dahman suffered a "serious health consequence" when she learned the money was gone. Polzin would not elaborate.

In any case, Dahman, a retired schoolteacher, is a beloved figure in Lutz. She once had a rhinestone-studded key to the city actually an unincorporated area. In 1996, well past the age of 80, she won the honorary title of Guv'na by raising nearly $2,500 for community causes with her fruits and cakes. She taught friends to play bridge and color-coordinated her outfits. Even as she lost her sight from macular degeneration, her good cheer remained.

"I'll say, 'How are you, Kay,'" Polzin said, "and she'll say, 'Never been better,' and clap her hands together."

Dahman still attends Tims Memorial Presbyterian Church.

"She's the most amazing Christian woman I've ever met," said the pastor, Jim Cazin. "She comes to church every Sunday at 11 o'clock, and if my sermon goes over, she has a little talking watch that gives me a reminder that it's 12."

Dahman's relationship with Mulert, her caretaker, was not without its highlights. For example, Mulert threw Dahman an elaborate 90th birthday party, complete with music and abuffet. As more than 100 friends passed through, Mulert had them pose with Dahman for pictures.

On Tuesday, the night of Mulert's arrest, Dahman barely slept.

"She's really grieving," Polzin said. "She's in a lot of pain, because she really cared about Barbara."

Mulert, free on $45,000 bail, answered her home phone on Wednesday afternoon.

"I have no comment at this time," she said before hanging up.

Times staff writer Bill Coats and researchers John Martin and Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3416.

More victims?

Investigators don't know if Kay Dahman was the only victim. Anyone with information about Barbara Mulert is asked to call (813) 247-8779.