BOSTON (CBS) – A pair of grandmotherly roommates barked their denials in court Thursday, accused of crimes that would make veteran con men jealous.
“They controlled the checkbook and they asked her to sign blank checks,” prosecutor Michele Granda said.
Randi Berkowitz, 63, and Patricia DiGiacomo, 58, are charged with more than 60 counts of embezzlement, larceny, and intimidation, even as their attorneys portrayed them as folks trying to help.
“What it feels like to me in my experience is more of a witch hunt than anything else,” attorney Susan Rayburn said. “It’s been really vindictive.”
Prosecutors say the pair befriended an older Brighton neighbor with dementia under the pretenses of caring for her cat. Instead they’re accused of stealing her trust and her life savings to the tune of $450,000.
“The victim made the fateful mistake of naming Miss Berkowitz as her power of attorney,” Prosecutor Michele Granda said. And with that prosecutors say the defendants were off to the races.
“These two individuals wrote a check off of the victim’s Fidelity account to purchase a 2010 Mini Cooper for $27,000,” Granda said.
And then there was the victim’s retirement account worth $216,000.
“By the time the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office began their investigation, the victim had $2.16 in her Fidelity account,” Granda said.
Prosecutors say the pair even got their elderly neighbor to sign over her condo, while they opened credit cards in her name to buy all sorts of goodies.
Defense attorneys argue the alleged victim actually loves the defendants and accused prosecutors of a dementia double standard. “She can come in and testify before the grand jury,” Rayburn said, “but she’s so out of her mind that she can’t make the decision of who is going to take care of her and who is going to take care of her cat.”
The defendants are already charged with a basketful of others frauds like using an array of phony names to scam doctors out of heavy duty painkillers. “Over the period of 21 months, it essentially reduced to about 34 pills a day,” Granda said.
Nevertheless, the judge allowed the pair to remain free as long as they steer clear of the nursing home where their alleged victim now resides and stay away from kennel where her cat is staying.
Prosecutors say the pair even found a way around the victim’s will, where something called a “puddy cat trust” would have donated all her remaining assets to animal welfare groups.
While all this has been unfolding, prosecutors say the defendants were each collecting Social Security disability payments and food stamps.
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