[an error occurred while processing this directive]
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001
LARGO -- First, she gained the 83-year-old man's trust by driving him in her taxi to the nursing home to visit his sick wife.
Next, he allowed her to move in with him in his Largo home. Along with her elementary school-age children. Then he let her pay his bills, allowing her access to credit cards and checks belonging to him and his wife, investigators said.
Over time, detectives said, she persuaded him to buy a $30,000 Chrysler Town and Country van for his trips to the nursing home. Instead, she drove it around, spending the couple's money on crack cocaine, said authorities.
It wasn't until the nursing home was getting ready to kick out the man's wife for a series of unpaid monthly bills that the scam became apparent.
On Thursday -- after almost a year of rip-offs and more than $4,000 in losses -- the woman was arrested by Pinellas County sheriff's detectives. Amber R. Turner, 30, is charged with exploitation of the elderly, according to sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie.
Dennie said detectives continue to investigate. He said the final losses suffered by the couple could be more than $10,000.
"This is just the start," Dennie said. "It's probably going to triple when they finish the investigation."
Dennie said the victim, whom he did not identify, often called taxis to go see his wife at the nursing home. He said Turner realized the man was vulnerable and took advantage of him, first by becoming his regular driver, then by getting even closer to him.
Dennie said the man allowed Turner and her children to move in with him in March. After she started looking over his finances, she did not pay any of his bills, Dennie said.
The victim in this case probably knew he needed help, but didn't know where to turn. He may have believed his only option was to turn to Turner, said Dr. Karl Jones, psychiatrist who consults for the elder abuse unit of the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office.
"The problem was he didn't know where he could go for help and this person was able to sense that," Jones said. "And that's usually the case with most of these people. They know they need the help but they don't know where to go."
If you suspect an elderly person needs help with their affairs, many places offer advice, including the Department of Elder Affairs at 588-6882; Neighborly Senior Services, 573-9444; or Gulf Coast Family Services, 538-7150.