EXCLUSIVE: Two women accused of scamming an 89-year-old Leonia man out of $134,000 were about to get him to leave his half-million dollar home to them when a social services worker called borough detectives who rescued the man from financial ruin, authorities told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning.
The victim had just been released from a local hospital in August 2012 when Sable Edwards and Teresa Butch “went up and identified themselves as caretakers and companions for senior citizens,” Leonia Police Chief Thomas Rowe said.
“Over a period of time, they were able to gain his confidence and develop a relationship with the man,” the chief told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “They delivered meals, offered him companionship.”
Four weeks after meeting him, Rowe said, they told the man they had “dire financial circumstances.”
Butch “needed brain surgery right away and couldn’t afford it,” he said.
The trusting victim wrote a personal check for $30,000.
“They insisted it was just a loan,” Rowe said. “They said they had recently inherited a house that was up for sale and that, once it was sold, they would pay him back.”
As weeks passed, they asked for more money for additional medical treatments and procedures for blood disoders, the chief said.
He gave them $104,000.
“He truly believed he was assisting someone in need and would be reimbursed,” Rowe said. “But my detectives learned that they never received any property — or any medical treatments.”
Still, they gained enough confidence to take their elderly victim to an attorney and have his will changed, the chief said.
“He would have given them his home, which is worth about $500,000, and additional cash,” Rowe said.
By then, however, an alert social worker with New Jersey Adult Protective Services got suspicious and called Rowe’s detectives.
When Edwards (above, left) and Butch (right) got wind of the resulting investigation, the chief said, they got a promissory note from their attorney to reimburse the victim — at $500 a month for the $134,000 that they owed him.
In case you don’t want to do the math, Rowe did:
“It comes to 268 months,” he said. “22.3 years for a man in his late 80s.”
Detectives Anthony Mikatarian, Robert Kennedy, Michael Jennings “put their hearts and souls into the case,” the chief said. “They spoke with the victim and showed him how these two were obviously up to no good.”
Yesterday, a municipal judge signed warrants for both, and the detectives arrested them.
Edwards, 24, and Butch, 26, were being held on $150,000 each in the Bergen County Jail, charged with theft by deception and improper behavior.
“The detectives worked very diligently on this case. It was their efforts that brought it to a successful conclusion,” Rowe said.
The chief also asked that anyone who might have dealt with either or both women to call Leonia detectives (201-944-0800) or their local police department.
“People like this deserve to go to prison for a significant amount of them,” Rowe said. “They prey on the helpless and the giving, taking money that may have been passed on to kids or grandkids for their education.
“This man’s only sin was that he was a very trusting person.”
Rowe said he’s worked similar cases in his career.
“They run it like a business. That’s why it’s called a $15-billion-a-year industry,” he said. “And that’s not even the real total. A lot of times people don’t come forward to us because they are embarrassed.
“It’s really organized crime. If they’re caught, they agree to pay back the money — then they’re off to the next hustle.
“I can’t tell you how disheartening this is — not just for the victims and their families but for the detectives who hate to see this,” Rowe said. “In some cases, like home repair and driveway scams, the victim doesn’t get to know them or remember their faces. They’re in, they’re out, and the next thing you know, $20,000 is gone.
“In this case we had something to work with.”
The chief offered some advice: “If you think someone in your family is vulnerable, and you don’t want to see them taken advantage of, get power of attorney yourself.”
At the very least, have a talk with your elders, he said. Tell them of stories such as these and what can happen.
MUGSHOTS: Courtesy BERGEN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE