CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County’s public guardian says a 98-year-old woman was preyed upon by nursing home employees paid to take care of her.
He’s still fighting to get her life savings back, but almost a year later, many involved in her case also wonder why no criminal charges have been filed.
A civil case will return to court Wednesday, and attorneys say the evidence she was bilked of almost $1 million is strong.
But they say there’s been nothing from Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx when it comes to criminal charges, and they’re frustrated.
“She needs to get her money back, and she needs to know that the perpetrators have been charged criminally,” said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.
Golbert is in the midst of a 10-month battle on behalf of 98-year-old Grace Watanabe. He’s been fighting to get her $700,000 back from now ex-employees of Lincoln Park’s Symphony Residences and the facility itself since filing the civil lawsuit in September.
“This was a financial theft of large proportions,” says private attorney Steve Levin.
Levin has joined that fight. The lawsuit alleges six former Symphony employees forged checks and used other means to swindle Watanabe, who has dementia, out of her life savings.
Both Golbert and Levin say every person they’ve deposed has taken the Fifth Amendment, including Symphony Residences’ current executive director.
“Who’s investigating what happened if the executive director is taking the Fifth Amendment? Who’s investigating the facility’s point of view?” asked Levin.
Then there’s the criminal case. Golbert says he gave all of his evidence to a Chicago police financial crimes detective months ago.
“And he’s completed his investigation and waiting for the OK from the state’s attorney … to charge,” said Golbert.
Golbert even wrote Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx a detailed letter about Watanabe’s case on May 17.
All he’s gotten is silence from Foxx’s office.
“I’m very disappointed that I have heard nothing from the state’s attorney’s office about bringing these individuals who stole money from somebody with dementia to justice,” said Golbert.
The lack of criminal charges also concerns Chicago’s Japanese American community who have been closely following Watanabe’s case, attending court hearings and even visiting her at her new facility.
“I think it’s important for us to be visible on this,” said Bill Yoshino of the Japanese American Citzens League. “That’s one of the questions we have on our minds, is what, if anything, the state’s attorney’s office is going to do in this case.”
Spokespeople for both the state’s attorney and Chicago police say the investigation is ongoing, adding there is no hold up.
Symphony Residences issued the following statement:
“The safety and well-being of our residents is our utmost concern. Upon learning of the incident involving Ms. Wantanabe, we immediately notified law enforcement authorities to investigate and seek restitution for Ms. Watanabe, and we are cooperating with those agencies. We require our team members perform their duties with the highest standards and ethical integrity. The employees involved in this matter are no longer employed at this facility, and we have conducted extensive retraining for the remaining staff on compliance standards and company policies related to residents’ rights, procedures for suspected cases of theft, and rules on accepting gifts from residents and their families, which is strictly prohibited. We will continue to work with law enforcement, and we remain committed to ensuring safeguards are in place to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”