The caregiver was supposed to help a Florida couple in their nineties pay their monthly bills. Instead, she stole nearly $300,000 from them.
On August 26, a U.S. federal district judge sentenced 52-year-old Sherri Lynn Smith to 51 months in prison for stealing the money from the couple while she worked for them in Broward County, Fla., says a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Smith wrote and forged the victim’s signature on checks payable to herself, her family members and her creditors. She also initiated Zelle electronic money transfers from the victims’ accounts to her own bank account. In addition, she made electronic payments from the victims’ accounts to her and her husband’s numerous credit card accounts.
“Treats from a cookie jar”
In a sentencing memorandum, U.S. Attorney Juan Antonio Gonzalez said Smith worked for the couple, who had various serious health conditions, for three years and was paid $15 an hour. She worked full time, received regular holiday bonuses and was compensated for expenses.
“Like a child sneaking treats from a cookie jar, the defendant started out taking only small amounts out of the victims’ accounts when she thought no one was looking,” Gonzalez said. “However, her unrestricted access to the victims’ finances proved too tempting, and she quickly began stealing thousands of dollars from the elderly couple each month. The defendant stole so much from the victims over that short time that the victims, who have worked, invested, and saved their whole lives to secure a comfortable retirement, are now facing financial insecurity and cannot provide for their own families as they had planned.”
Smith did not use the money for her own medical treatment. “Instead, she wasted most of the money she stole playing bingo several times a week, dining out, and paying for her daughter’s wedding reception at a local event space,” Gonzalez continued. “She also used a sizable chunk of the money she stole to pay part of the down payment on her new house and later bought herself a new air conditioner, windows, and fencing for that house on the victims’ dime. In short, the defendant exploited the victims’ trust and took advantage of their vulnerable states to bankroll her own frivolous spending for several years.”
In her own statement, Smith confirmed she used the funds to play bingo at an Indian reservation, an activity her own late mother had enjoyed. Smith said playing bingo made her feel like she was near her mother again and it was a way to deal with her own pain and grief. However, her spending quickly spiraled out of control.
In addition to sentencing Smith to prison followed by four years of supervised release, the judge entered a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $288,865.92 and ordered Smith to pay $168,895.92 in restitution. Judge Thomas P. Barber presided over the case.