Two Brighton women have been charged with stealing a massive amount of cash from an elderly neighbor who thought the money was going to her cat, according to the Suffolk County district attorney.
Randi Berkowitz, 63, and Patricia DiGiacomo, 58, were charged in Suffolk Superior Court on April 17 with multiple accounts of embezzlement, larceny, perjury, and other offenses.
Michele Granda, the assistant district attorney, told the court that the defendants tricked their 74-year-old neighbor into letting them care for her 7-year-old tabby named “Puddy Cat” and then used the money for their own benefit.
In all, officials say the accused stole more than $450,000 from the elderly woman, who suffers from dementia. The defendants then allegedly lied in civil proceedings that stemmed from the thefts.
The victim granted power of attorney to Berkowitz in 2012. By the time a conservator stepped in, the Boston Globe reported, the victim’s savings account had been drained from $216,000 to $2.16.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said in a statement:
"This is one of the most startling cases of elder exploitation we've seen in years. 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."
Berkowitz and DiGiacomo, who share a condominium and, according to WBZ-TV , collect Social Security disability and food stamps, allegedly used the elderly woman’s money to buy a 2010 Mini Cooper, and iPad, exercise equipment, meals, specialty kitchen supplies, and other items.
Granda said the victim doesn’t know the true identities of the women who allegedly stole from her. “[The victim] knows Randi Berkowitz as Pat DiGiacomo and knows Patricia DiGiacomo as “Pat’s friend, Devon,” Granda said.
The defendants also allegedly opened six credit cards in the victim’s name, officials said, and used the victim’s money to pay lawyers to defend themselves in an unrelated case. That case involved the defendants allegedly visiting multiple doctors to obtain large amount of pills.
Prosecutors said they were most disturbed that the defendants allegedly got the victim to transfer ownership of her Brighton condominium over to them. The victim’s will set up the creation of the “Puddy Cat Trust” which upon her death would have named DiGiacomo the trustee, the district attorney’s office said.
Berkowitz and DiGiacomo pleaded not guilty. The court released both defendants on their own recognizance and they are due back for a hearing on May 15.
The Boston Herald reported that Berkowitz’s lawyer said the defendants had a “loving relationship” with their elderly neighbor and that the allegations against them are a “witch hunt.”Follow Robert Burgess on Twitter @bobb2001