Two women and two check-cashing companies have been accused of profiting from a scheme that had a 74-year-old man suffering with dementia as their target. The scam, reported in the article “Woman carried suitcases of cash out of check-cashing business, elder abuse lawsuit says” from the Fresno Bee, was attempting to drain millions of dollars from the man.
The lawsuit alleges that the check cashing companies should have known that the 74-year-old widower was a victim of financial elder abuse by the two women, who are accused of convincing David Silnitzer to write checks totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Making matters worse, one of the women managed to get legal permission to oversee the elderly man’s assets, which were estimated at $6 million.
The Fresno County Public Guardian became the conservator of David Silnitzer’s estate this year after receiving a report from the Fresno District Attorney’s Office about the possibility of elder financial abuse taking place. The county is going after the check-cashing companies for unfair business practices, financial elder abuse and negligence.
The DA’s Office is investigating the two women, Christina M. Alvarado and Brenda L. Denning, but no charges have been filed to date. However, a Fresno County Superior Court judge did issue a restraining order against Alvarado to try to protect Silnitzer from any further harm from her.
About a year after Silnitzer’s wife passed away, Silnitzer began to rely on Alvarado, who has an extensive criminal history. He trusted her as a caretaker, support person and even referred to her as a fiancé at one point. She moved in with him and started a spending spree, using money taken from his accounts, opening new accounts and cashing checks.
He may not have been aware of what was happening. He was given a “Mini-Mental State Exam” to test his mental skill and scored 5 out of 30, indicating severe dementia.
From Aug. 1 to Sep. 12, 2016, more than $83,000 was withdrawn from Silnitzer’s account at Bank of America. Many of the withdrawals were made at non-Bank of America ATMs, including many located in casinos. Bank of America officials raised red flags, and Alvarado moved to a different bank. She opened an account at Chase for more than $900,000. During the eleven days after the account was opened, she made a withdrawal of more than $800,000. Officials at Chase, Bank of America and a third bank closed the accounts, suspicious of the activity.
Alvarado, therefore, turned to the check cashing companies. More than $1.5 million was cashed at one company. The check cashing companies earned large fees and didn’t ask any questions. Alvarado and Denning then had Silnitzer sign a durable power of attorney for financial management. The checks kept getting cashed.
Law enforcement officials who specialize in financial elder abuse say that seniors are very attractive targets to thieves and scammers. Those who live alone and are isolated from family are particularly vulnerable. Family members can be the first line of defense against thieves.
Reference: Fresno Bee (Oct. 9, 2019) “Woman carried suitcases of cash out of check-cashing business, elder abuse lawsuit says”