'Gross breach of trust': $23k swindled from 94-year-old

A Dunedin woman ripped off a 94-year-old for more than $23,000 after striking up a relationship as an informal caregiver, a court has heard.

And it was not the first time the 42-year-old had thieved from a nonogenarian.

In December 2015 she was convicted of theft after she stole $40 from a 97-year-old woman’s handbag while working at Marne St Hospital. 

The defendant appeared in the Dunedin District Court this afternoon after pleading guilty to several charges of using a document for a pecuniary advantage.

She was due to be sentenced in January but could only offer her victim $20 a week in reparation, which Judge Michael Turner called “hollow”.

He delayed the sentencing so the woman could look into re-mortgaging her home or other avenues to raise funds quickly.

To enable that process to run more smoothly he suppressed the defendant's name.

The victim, who now lives in a rest home, met the woman in 2009 when she lived alone and had required home help after undergoing surgery.

While that began as paid employment, the pair continued an informal arrangement.

The victim had been managing her own financial affairs until the middle of 2014 when she suffered a fall that landed her in hospital.

She spent three months in respite care before returning home in August that year.

The defendant continued her visits and helped with tasks such as “grocery shopping, mail, paying invoices, tidying her bank statements and bills, and gardening”, court documents said.

The elderly woman entrusted her with her bank cards. 

It started in May 2016.

While shopping, the defendant would splurge on products for herself too.  

Over seven months she racked up a bill of $3443 on groceries, household goods, clothing, skin-care products and furniture, which she organised to be delivered to her home.

She would even swipe her own loyalty card to collect points for the transactions, the court heard. 

The bulk of the fraud though came from the defendant using her victim’s bank card at ATMs.

By May 2017, she had swindled $19,600 from the woman’s accounts.  

She was captured on CCTV on numerous occasions making the cash withdrawals, police said.

The defendant was eventually rumbled when a family member of the victim became suspicious and noticed a power bill had not been paid.

A look at the bank statements revealed the depth of the care-giver’s deceit. Forty-four fraudulent transactions; $23,043 gone.

Crown prosecutor Catherine Ure said the woman's offending marked a “gross breach of trust”.

“The pattern and period of time reflect significant premeditation,” she said.

Judge Turner said the victim (with family members) and defendant had a restorative-justice conference but the sincerity of her remorse was questioned.

The sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.