Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series on senior scams.
MANSFIELD — Hailey Kinnamon-Hergatt knew from a young age that if she needed money, she’d have to work for it.
This kind of thinking was instilled in her by her father, Robert Butler.
“At 14, he told me if I wanted a car that I would have to go out and work for it. I went and got a job at Kroger, and ever since I was 16, I had two jobs to make sure that I was able to pay for anything that I wanted,” she said.
That’s why she found it odd when she learned that her father had given an $18,000 loan to a stranger.
When asked why, Robert assured his daughter and only child that he would get the money back.
But he didn’t.
For three years, the Mansfield man — diagnosed with dementia last year at age 62 — was allegedly taken advantage of by a woman he had hired to clean his home.
After suffering from a fall that caused nerve damage in his leg, Robert experienced difficulty moving about, so the woman offered to do his grocery shopping.
Her presence in Robert’s life became more and more prominent, to the point where she introduced herself as his "caregiver" and even talked of moving her family members into his home, Hailey said.
“I had a couple of conversations with her and told her I could step in and do these things and that her family didn't need to be there all the time,” Hailey said.
But the woman insisted it was her dad’s decision and that he wanted her there.
Hailey called the police for guidance.
“They asked me if I owned the property, and I said, ‘No.’ And they said that I couldn’t put any type of restraining order on her. It would have to be done by my dad,” Hailey said.
She sought assistance from the Area Agency on Aging, but Robert’s self-proclaimed caregiver dissuaded him from giving the agency the time of day, Hailey said, claiming they were going to charge him a lot money for their services.
Adult Protective Services also stepped in, but to no avail.
“At that time, our family didn't know that he had dementia. We just thought something weird was going on,” Hailey said. “And there was no way for us to get him to a doctor because she wouldn't allow us to get around.”
The woman went so far as to delete his family members’ numbers from his phone, Hailey said.
“We kept telling him that we’d take him to the doctor, but he said, ‘No, she’s taking me to the doctor. It’s fine,’” Hailey said.
At a loss for what to do, Hailey finally gave her father a choice.
“One day I just said, ‘Alright, Dad. You're not letting me come around. I don't know what's going on with you. Your behavior isn't normal … You have to decide — is it going to be this caregiver or is it going to be me? I mean, I'm happy to help you out,’ Hailey said.
“And he said, ‘Okay, well I'll call her and tell her she can't come over anymore.’”
The next day Hailey received a call from her father. Confused, he asked why the woman could no longer come around.
Thereafter Hailey got in touch with Adult Protective Services to set up monthly checkups at her father’s home to ensure he was cared for.
About six months later, Hailey was notified a moving truck was seen in Robert’s driveway.
“I called Adult Protective Services and I said, ‘If he moves, I'll never know what happens to him. If he dies, she'll never call me and tell me. If something bad happens, I'll never know,’” she said.
Hailey decided to go over to his house and she heard footsteps upstairs.
“I said, ‘Hey, Dad, who's upstairs?’ And he said, ‘I don't know.’
“And I said, ‘Where are you sleeping?’
“And he said, ‘Well, I'm sleeping on the couch.”
Hailey said the “caregiver’s” daughter had moved into his master bedroom, forcing him to sleep on his own couch.
After a lengthy conversation between Hailey and her dad, he granted her power of attorney, which legally enabled her to manage his affairs and begin to sort out the mess that the woman had created.
“We thought we had everything taken care of by doing PODs (payable on death) on all the car titles, PODs on bank accounts, and I was co-owner on safe deposit boxes … We thought that was our preparation and that he would be taken care of, which was naive of me because I was a bank manager. I know you have to have power of attorney if something happens,” she said.
“You just don't think that when your parents are in their 50s that you're going to have to get power of attorney and gets things set in place.”
Hailey, who worked at KeyBank for 10 years, eight of which as manager, said she frequently witnessed older adults being exploited.
“I mean, I shouldn't have been surprised because you’d see it every week at the bank,” she said.
“We had a restaurant in town where the waitresses were known to seek out older men. I mean, they were predators. They would try to befriend them and then they would say they needed dental work or that their car broke down.
“And you know, people get lonely. They want to have some kind of friendship, so they would end up giving them money and they get sucked in. It was like giving them a paycheck.”
Although Hailey had obtained power of attorney, progress was halted by the “caregiver,” who misled Robert into thinking Hailey was attempting to steal his money.
“He would call me at night really, really confused and tell me, 'She thinks you’re trying to take my money,'” Hailey said. “And I said, ‘Dad, why would I try to take your money?’ At the time I had three jobs.”
Reality began to sink in for Robert when Hailey showed him the bills, full of unfamiliar charges.
"His 'caregiver' ran up $75,000 in credit cards, took $60,000 equity out of his home (home equity) and over $50,000 in cash," Hailey said. "For the cash, she would write checks to herself and sign them or take his ATM card and go through the ATM -- that is on tape -- to withdraw cash."
When Hailey intervened and took charge of Robert’s finances, he was days away from his electricity being shut off. His car insurance company also wanted to drop him because his “caregiver” had added herself on his car insurance and was in four or five accidents, Hailey said.
“He used to have an 850 credit score,” Hailey said.
Now he’s drowning in debt.
“This is the part that's difficult about elder exploitation, because not only do the people that this has happened to suffer, but now he's on government assistance. He has to go onto Medicaid because he no longer has cash that he can do any type of longterm planning,” Hailey said.
“That's the really bad part of it is it's costing everybody money because now this person that did have money in their bank account that could have supported himself, now he’s living on the system. Medicaid is going to have to step in.”
Hailey is up to her neck in paperwork and faced with the difficult task of disputing the credit card charges.
“Anybody that's had any type of elder exploitation like this, they have to prove that somebody took all this money, so we had to get police reports and send it into Medicaid and it just, it gets really, really messy,” she said.
And unfortunately it’s not just the “caregiver” that stole from Robert. Hailey said the woman passed his name around, identifying him as an “easy target,” and that another woman got checks from him.
Cases are still open against those who stole from Robert, including the so-called caregiver.
“Nothing moves quickly, I found out, and it definitely doesn't move any quicker knowing that it's not an easy case for detectives to look through,” Hailey said.
Understandably, this whole process has been extremely stressful. Hailey said one of the services she found most helpful throughout it all was Adult Protective Services.
“They were there more for moral support than anything,” she said. “It wasn’t that they had some kind of extraordinary legal advice or anything, but it was somebody to talk to that had seen these cases all the time.”
Adult Protective Services helps vulnerable adults 60 and over who are in danger of harm, unable to protect themselves and may have no one to assist them. Richland County Job & Family Services oversees the local program.
One of the first steps to remedying cases of elder abuse or exploitation is getting family members involved, according to Richland County APS caseworker Karen Kepple.
"That's where it starts is by bringing family in," Kepple said.
Since Hailey was already involved in the situation and searching for a solution, APS stood behind her, offering support.
"We just supported her and guided her," Kepple said. "We find that in a lot of cases people just don't know where to start, so if we can get in there and show them resources or give them the information, we're willing to help them along the road as long as it takes."
Family involvement can help prevent a bad situation from becoming even worse, according to Melissa Smith, director of consumer education and outreach in the Ohio attorney general's office.
"Something that we see often is seniors being targeted because they might not have that immediate connection; they might not have somebody else in the house at that exact moment in which the scammer is trying to get them to give up their money,” Smith said.
Years prior to the scam, Robert worked as a manufacturer's representative, traveling from state to state selling cleaning supplies for about 25 years. When he fell and suffered from nerve damage in his leg, he went on disability.
“My dad had disability coming in monthly so that was more than enough for a single man to live on, plus he hardly owed anything on his house,” Hailey said.
He started showing signs that something was off mentally at 59 years old.
“But nobody quite knew what was going on until all this (the scam) came out,” Hailey said.
“My grandma had Lewy body (disease), which is a type of dementia, and if anybody in your family has Lewy body dementia, then you're more prone to have it. But at 59 years old, you don't think that that would happen.”
In hindsight Hailey wishes she had approached estate planning with her father differently.
“When my dad and I sat down to talk about payable on death and safe deposit boxes, we should have chatted then about me becoming power of attorney on his account, or even being a co-owner,” she said.
“If I would've had that in place in the beginning I could have done so much more than letting this get out of control until finally we were in a position that, I mean, we were at the bottom. It couldn't have been any worse before we got involved.”