These NJ sisters stole millions from unsuspecting elderly clients
The owner of an in-home senior care company in Atlantic County has admitted scheming with her sister and a lawyer to steal millions of dollars from elderly clients.
Jan Van Holt, 59, of Linwood, admitted the scheme in court Tuesday, pleading guilty to first-degree money laundering, according to an announcement by acting Attorney General Robert Lougy.
Her sister, Sondra Steen, admitted her role in the scheme in February.
Authorities say Van Holt and Steen — owners of “A Better Choice,” a company that offered elderly clients in-home care and legal financial planning — conspired with Barbara Lieberman, 64, of Northfield, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, to steal more than $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients from January 2003 through December 2012.
“Van Holt and her sister conspired with an attorney to systematically siphon away the assets of elderly clients, who typically had no family to look after them and trusted their caregivers to treat them honestly,” Lougy said. “The treatment these vulnerable victims received was anything but honest; it was devious and heartless.”
Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend Van Holt be sentenced to 12 years in state prison, including 5 ½ years of parole ineligibility. She'll also need to pay back an amount that has not yet been determined.
Van Holt was indicted on March 16 of last year along with Steenl Susan Hamlett, 56, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked as an aide for company clients; and with attorney William Price, 58, of Linwood.
Steen pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering and was sentenced on March 4 to 10 years in state prison, including 4 ½ years of parole ineligibility. Price pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme and stealing $125,000 from a couple he met while working as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services. He was sentenced in October to five years in state prison.
Lieberman pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced on March 25, 2015 to 10 years in state prison, including 3 ½ years of parole ineligibility. Lieberman forfeited $3 million in assets as well as her law license.
The charges against Hamlett are pending.
“One of our most fundamental duties in law enforcement is to protect the vulnerable in society from criminals who would seek to exploit them,” Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig said. “We rightfully reserve some of the harshest penalties for those who prey on children and the elderly. In this case, we have secured prison sentences of 10 years or more for the three women at the heart of this scheme.”
Van Holt worked as a case worker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services from 2002 through December 2007, when she was terminated. Five of the 12 victims targeted by Van Holt, Steen and Lieberman were recruited as clients after they came into contact with Van Holt through her official public position as a case worker, authorities said.
Van Holt generally was the one to identify potential clients, approaching them to offer the services of A Better Choice and Lieberman, the AG's office said. The defendants targeted elderly clients with substantial assets who typically did not have any immediate family, offering them non-medical care and services, including household chores, errands, driving clients to appointments, scheduling, budgeting, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and other tasks, it said. They did not provide healthcare services.
Once a target accepted Van Holt’s offer of services, Steen usually would be put in place as the victim’s primary caregiver, according to the AG's office. Lieberman would then be brought in to do legal work, preparing powers of attorney and wills for the clients. Lieberman was a leading specialist in elder law in Atlantic County who gave seminars to senior citizens on end of life affairs, wills and living wills, the AG's office said. The defendants took control of the finances of their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one on false pretenses, it said.
The defendants then added their names to the victims’ bank accounts or transferred the victims’ funds into new accounts they controlled, the AG's office said. The defendants stole from the accounts to pay their own expenses, including, for Van Holt and Steen, veterinary bills for their pets, pool supplies, two Mercedes cars owned by Van Holt, and lease payments on a Florida condo, the AG's office said.
A portion of the money was used to fund the victim’s expenses to keep the victim unaware of the thefts, according to the AG's office.
At times, money would be shifted from victim to victim to cover up the thefts, it said.
If aq victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account controlled by the defendants, the AG's office said.. When Lieberman prepared wills for the victims, she typically named herself or Van Holt as executor of the estate and named Steen as a beneficiary, or named other beneficiaries who had little or no ties to the victim and never actually received anything from the estate.
"The defendants relied on fraud, manipulation or forgery in the execution of the wills. In this manner, they continued to steal from the victims’ estates after they died," the AG's office said in an announcement of the guilty plea.