$450k Theft from Elderly Cat Lover with Dementia
BOSTON, April 17, 2014—Two Brighton women were arraigned today on a 63-count indictment accusing them of stealing more than $450,000 from a disabled, elderly neighbor by using the victim’s cat to gain leverage over her finances, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.
RANDI BERKOWITZ (D.O.B. 12/11/50) and PATRICIA DiGIACOMO (D.O.B. 1/18/56) were formally charged in Suffolk Superior Court with multiple counts of embezzlement by a fiduciary, larceny from a person over 60, perjury, and other offenses. Assistant District Attorney Michele Granda of the DA’s Special Prosecutions Unit recommended that they be held on $20,000 cash bail each and that their open bail on earlier “doctor shopping” and identity fraud cases be revoked.
Clerk Magistrate Connie Wong released both defendants on their own recognizance. Stating that she didn’t believe she had the authority to revoke their open bails, she scheduled a hearing on that request for tomorrow morning in the First Session of Suffolk Superior Court.
“This is one of the most startling cases of elder exploitation we’ve seen in years,” Conley said. “We believe the defendants exploited a position of trust to drain the victim’s bank account, take ownership of her home, and even buy themselves a new car with her savings. Fortunately, people who knew and cared about the victim reported their suspicions to law enforcement and we were able to seize many of those assets before they were lost forever.”
In an account provided to the court, Granda today said the defendants “took advantage of a 74-year-old woman with progressive dementia, then lied to the court to cover their tracks.”
The allegations reflect two sets of criminal actions by both defendants, Granda said: theft from the victim and lying in various civil proceedings arising out of those thefts. Berkowitz is additionally charged with trying but failing to file a false insurance claim unrelated to the thefts and falsely testifying in a Housing Court eviction proceeding.
Granda told the court that the defendants ingratiated themselves with the victim, a neighbor who lived next door to them on Strathmore Road, by caring for her 7-year-old tabby, “Puddy Cat.” The victim had no close family and the cat was “the most important thing in her life,” Granda said.
Beginning in late 2012, Granda said, Berkowitz convinced the victim to name Berkowitz as her power of attorney and administrator of her will, granting her authority to make financial and other decisions in her name. Complicating matters, however, was the fact that Berkowitz was posing as DiGiacomo, and even had a bogus Massachusetts driver’s license bearing Berkowitz’ photo and DiGiacomo’s name and biographical information.
“The elder doesn’t know anyone named Randi Berkowitz,” Granda said. “She knows Randi Berkowitz as Pat DiGiacomo and knows Patricia DiGiacomo as “Pat’s friend, Devon.”
The defendants had “unrestricted access” to the victim’s finances, Granda said, and even got the victim to sign blank checks that they used for their own purchases “wholly unrelated” to the victim or Puddy Cat. Within 12 months of appointing Berkowitz as her power of attorney, the victim’s bank account was siphoned of some $175,000.
The defendants allegedly used the victim’s money to buy a 2010 Mini Cooper, an iPad, exercise equipment, meals, specialty kitchen supplies, and other items for themselves. They also used the money to retain attorneys to defend them in earlier criminal cases charging them with fraudulently obtaining prescription painkillers – a scheme in which Berkowitz saw multiple doctors under her own identity and that of DiGiacomo to obtain large quantities of OxyContin and Percocet – and Registry of Motor Vehicles fraud for using the falsified driver’s license to achieve that end. They opened six credit card accounts in the victim’s name.
Most disturbing, prosecutors said, was an aspect of the scheme in which the defendants allegedly got the victim to transfer ownership of her condominium to Berkowitz.
In her will, prosecutors said, the victim provided for the creation of the “Puddy Cat Trust” upon her death, and she named “Patricia DiGiacomo” as its future trustee. She also designated twenty-three animal welfare organizations to receive the proceeds from the sale of her condominium once her cat passed away and the trust dissolved.
Berkowitz thwarted that plan by arranging for the victim to file paperwork giving the condominium upon her death to “Randi Berkowitz as Trustee for the DiGiacomo Family Nominee Trust.” Berkowitz was present for a meeting at which the victim completed this paperwork, but presented the falsified driver’s license that identified her as Patricia DiGiacomo. At the time, the victim’s condominium was assessed at approximately $275,000. Berkowitz acquired it for $1. In a later civil proceeding, Berkowitz presented to the court what investigators believe was a falsified lease purporting to authorize her to live in the victim’s condominium.
When the victim was confronted with the defendants’ actions in 2013, she contacted her building’s property management company and had them change the locks on her condominium. Berkowitz and DiGiacomo allegedly hired a locksmith to change the locks back so they would continue to have access to the property. It was not until the property manager changed the building’s front door locks that they were finally excluded from the residence.
In the aftermath of that incident, Berkowitz allegedly went to Suffolk Superior Court to file a lawsuit claiming that she lived there. She allegedly represented herself to the judge as the tenant of the victim’s condominium and falsely claimed that the real Patricia DiGiacom was the person the victim named as her power of attorney. She filed false statements in paperwork signed under the pains and penalties of perjury. As the criminal investigation closed in on them, meanwhile, the two began liquidating all the assets they had stolen from the victim and deposited in their own accounts. When State Police assigned to the Suffolk DA’s office executed a search warrant on their apartment, detectives recovered $64,000 in currency and uncashed money orders and bank checks. State Police also froze their bank accounts and the Mini Cooper they allegedly bought with the victim’s savings.
In 2010, prosecutors say, Berkowitz posed as DiGiacomo to file a claim with an insurance company. The claim represented that she had been hit in the head by debris falling from the roof of her apartment building. The only witnesses, she said, were an unknown male named “Kevin” and a person named “Devon D’Mato,” whom prosecutors believe was actually the real DiGiacomo. Insurance investigators were unable to verify the claim and it was denied.
The defendants have retained counsel at the cost of nearly $20,000 in 2013 alone, but were appointed attorneys at arraignment today. DiGiacomo is represented by the firm of Goodwin-Procter, who are providing their services for free, and Berkowitz is represented by attorney Susan Rayburn. They will return to court tomorrow on a motion to have their open bails revoked and on May 15 for the larceny-related charges.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.