Friday, December 02, 2016

Live-In Caregiver Hired To Attend To Ailing, Recently-Widowed Senior Promptly Marries Him, Drains Equity Out Of His Home & Cash Out Of His Bank Account; Victim Left Broke & Living Alone In Nursing Home While Perpetrator Cops Guilty Plea After Sitting In Jail For A Few Months, Gets Probation In Lieu Of Active Prison Time

In Wilmington, North Carolina, WECT-TV Channel 6 reports:
  • A Wilmington woman pleaded guilty recently to elder abuse, in a crime that came as a shock even to prosecutors who routinely try these kinds of cases.

    “It was something stunning, how much money that she spent in three months time,” New Hanover County Prosecutor Janet Coleman said.

    The Alleged Crime

    Coleman says 40-year-old Christy Paffenroth Ferguson met 80-year-old Tony Ferguson while she was working at a local adult day care facility. After Ferguson’s wife of 40 years died of cancer, their daughter hired Paffenroth to serve as his caregiver.

    Paffenroth was paid $1,100 a month for her services, plus room and board in Ferguson’s home for her and her teenage son. Coleman says Paffenroth moved in as hired help in May of 2012, married Ferguson in December, and by January she’d taken over as his power of attorney.

    In May of 2013, prosecutors say Paffenroth took $120,000 out of Ferguson’s credit union and transferred it to a joint checking account. She then took out an $80,000 equity line on his house that was bought and paid for.

    Then, prosecutors say the spending started in earnest.

    “She had plastic surgery…. She got breast augmentation. She got braces. Her son got braces. She paid for private school tuition for a local private school, Christian school, for her son and his friend. Multiple thousands of dollars,” Coleman said of some of the bigger ticket items that drained Ferguson’s life savings.

    After his bank account was empty, prosecutors say Ferguson began cashing in his savings bonds.

    “At that point….he was virtually broke,” Coleman continued. “In March of 2014, she sold the house for $90,000.” The house had previously been valued at nearly twice that amount.

    Prior to his marriage to Paffenroth, Ferguson, a retired federal employee, had no debt whatsoever. With no home left, he now lives alone in a nursing home.

    “All he wanted to do was go home. He doesn’t understand he doesn’t have a home,” Coleman said. “It literally broke my heart. And everyone else who was involved in this case.”
    ***
    Authorities Called In

    Paffenroth says Ferguson’s daughter wasn’t happy about the marriage and called the Department of Social Services and the bank to complain. That’s when authorities got involved, eventually charging Paffenroth with Felony Exploitation of an Elder Person.

    Her Public Defender, Emily Zvejnieks, thought Paffenroth was innocent, but says Paffenroth decided to plead guilty to avoid the risk of 2.5 years in prison if convicted.
    ***
    Paffenroth was given credit for a few months she’d already spent in jail, and she was placed on probation rather than given active prison time. The fact that she did not have a significant criminal history and the fact that Ferguson did not want her to go to jail were also taken into consideration at sentencing.
    ***
    Legally Incompetent

    At the time the two were first married, Ferguson was considered legally competent. The prosecutor said his physician had previously noticed early signs of dementia, but no legal action had been taken to address that.

    “People are competent until they are declared incompetent,” Coleman explained.

    That involves court proceedings, and it wasn’t until after Ferguson’s money was gone and his house sold that the courts declared him legally incompetent.

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