A mother and daughter who worked as caregivers to an elderly woman face charges of exploiting the victim out of nearly $200,000 — including thousands of dollars in holiday bonuses and gifts, $2,000 at a jewelry store and more than $700 at Victoria’s Secret, according to a federal indictment.
Margaret Gastelum and her daughter, Mona Lisa Rodriguez, face 72 counts and 62 counts, respectively, including conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in the exploitation of the victim, who is in her early 90s.
A federal grand jury indicted the women in U.S. District Court in Tucson on Oct. 31. The two have not been assigned an attorney.
The offenses began in June 2016 through January 2018 when the caregivers first began caring for the widow, whose husband died in 2009, court documents state. She was living in her home in SaddleBrooke and received in-home care in 2015 provided by a Tucson company. Gastelum was an employee of the business and Rodriguez also provided care, the documents say.
In 2016, the elderly woman decided to sell her home and temporarily move into an apartment at The Country Club of La Cholla, an assisted-living facility on the northwest side. Gastelum and Rodriguez continued to provide care for the widow, and “both overcharged her for their services without E.W.’s (the victim) full knowledge and consent,” the documents state.
The mother and daughter also persuaded the widow in June 2016 to move into a rental house on Tucson’s northwest side, which was less expensive than the assisted-living facility. The women provided care for the widow and continued to overcharge for their services, the indictment states.
In September 2016, the widow’s home sold for $245,000, and $197,550 was wired into her bank account, according to documents.
The following June, Gastelum and Rodriguez moved the widow into Gastelum’s house on Tucson’s south side, where she lived with Gastelum’s family.
The caregivers conspired “to ingratiate themselves with E.W., make her dependent on them for her care and personal needs, and controlled her day-to-day living” and continued overcharging her for their services, the documents state.
Gastelum and Rodriguez also gained access to the widow’s bank account and credit cards and obtained credit cards in their own names using the widow’s account to pay the charges. The women caused the widow to “suffer a loss that exceeded $184,000,” according to the indictment.
Bank fraud by the caregivers, the indictment says, includes:
- Monthly paychecks to Gastelum on Oct. 24, 2016, of $2,500 and Rodriguez on Oct. 25, 2016 of $2,400.
- Payroll Christmas bonuses on Dec. 16, 2016, to Gastelum of $3,525 and to Rodriguez of $3,300.
- Valentines gifts on Feb. 13, 2017, to Gastelum of $1,125 and Rodriguez of $1,100.
- Easter gifts on April 13, 2017, of $1,500 each to Gastelum and Rodriguez.
- Pay on April 25, 2017, to Gastelum of $3,200 and to Rodriguez of $$3,500.
- A birthday gift on April 26, 2017, to Gastelum of $3,100.
- There was no stated purpose on June 19, 2017, for Gastelum’s payment of $3,200 and Rodriguez’s payment of $3,400.
Wire fraud using credit cards, the indictment says, includes:
- Charges of $2,078 from Jared jewelers by Gastelum.
- Charges of $538 from athletic footwear stores by Gastelum and Rodriguez.
Protecting elderly from fraud
The National Institute on Aging says about 1 in 10 adults over age 60 are abused, neglected or financially exploited. It can occur by “a loved one, a hired caregiver, or a stranger. Abuse can happen at home, at a relative’s home, or in an elder care facility.”
Tucson police Sgt. Pete Dugan said in a recent article about the elderly and fraud that many seniors who are living in care homes and facilities are widowed and their children live out of state. He said in addition to making sure their loved one’s physical needs are met, a family member or guardian must also monitor the senior’s bank accounts to make sure no one is financially exploiting them and withdrawing large amounts of cash.
Police say among the red flags are strangers or even a family member coercing an elderly person into making financial transactions.
Another sign something is wrong is when an elder is not allowed to speak for themselves and is giving implausible explanations about what they are doing with their money. A third sign is when an elder fears they will be evicted or institutionalized if money is not given to a caregiver.