NJ woman pleads guilty to scamming millions of dollars from the elderly
A 60-year-old Linwood woman pleaded guilty Monday to money laundering for her involvement in a scheme with her sister and an attorney to steal millions of dollars from elderly clients of an in-home senior care company in Atlantic County.
According to Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, charges against Sondra Steen came following an investigation by New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice. Authority said Steen was indicted on March 16, 2015 along with her sister Jan Van Holt, 59, of Linwood. Van Holt is the owner of A Better Choice, a company that offered elderly clients in-home care and legal financial planning.
Also indicted were Susan Hamlett, 56, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked as an aide for company clients as well as William Price, 57, of Linwood, "who has since pleaded guilty to taking part in the scheme and stealing $125,000 from an elderly couple he met as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services," Hoffman said.
The attorney general said Van Holt and Steen "were charged with conspiring with 63-year-old Barbara Lieberman of Northfield, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, to steal over $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients from January 2003 through December 2012."
In pleading guilty, authorities said, Steen admitted to helping her sister and Lieberman with a scheme to steal from elderly clients at the care center.
Authorities say Van Holt worked as a case worker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services from 2002 through December 2007 before being terminated. Many of the victims of the scheme were recruited by Van Holt, who knew of them from her previous job as a case worker.
The attorney general said Van Holt would target potential elderly clients who were known to have "substantial assets" but no immediate family. They would be offered help through A Better Choice with non-medical services such as running errands, managing finances, running errands, getting to appointments and housework. For the most part, Steen would then serve as the client's primary caregiver with Lieberamn handling any necessary legal work.
Once the defendants gained the trust of the elderly clients, they would take control of their finances and add their names to bank accounts by forging power of attorney documents or using false pretenses to obtain control. Once that was done, the defendants allegedly stole from the accounts to pay their own expenses. Van Holt and Steen, who lived together, used the accounts to pay veterinary bills for their pets, purchase pool supplies and buy two Mercedes cars. They also made lease payments on a condo in Florida.
"A portion of the money was used to fund the victim’s expenses to keep the victim unaware of the thefts. In some cases, money from one victim would be transferred to another victim to pay expenses and cover up the thefts. If the victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account allegedly controlled by the defendants," Hoffman said in a press release.
Lieberman also named herself and Van Holt as executors of the wills she would prepare for the elderly clients and then named Steen as a beneficiary.
Authorities say they began looking into the alleged laundering after the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian referred a case involving one of the victims to the State Police.
"Lieberman pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced on March 25, 2015 to 10 years in prison, including 3.5 years of parole ineligibility. Lieberman forfeited $3 million in assets as well as her law license. The charges against Van Holt and Hamlett are pending," the press release said.
Under a plea agreement, Steen pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering and the state is recommending a sentence of 10 years in prison with parole eligibility after 4.5 years. She is scheduled for sentencing on March 4. The attorney general said Steen will also be responsible for restitution.
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.