A federal judge in Tampa, Florida sentenced the owner of an assisted living facility to 33 months in prison for stealing benefits from elderly and mentally ill patients. Ilfrenise Charlemagne, age 68, owned an operator Pleasant Alternatives and Hilcrest Residential Assisted Living Facilities before being convicted of fraud. Prosecutors say that this is not the first time Charlemagne defrauded patients and the government.
Ilfrenise Charlemagne Opens Hilcrest Residential in 2008
According to court records, Charlemagne began operating Hilcrest Residential in 2008. Most of her patients were aged and mentally ill. Most of the patients receiving care there were supported by payments from Medicaid and Social Security.
Florida Shuts Down Hilcrest for Deplorable Living Conditions
Charlemagne’s operation of Hilcrest didn’t last long. In 2011, Florida officials shut down the home after finding deplorable conditions.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration found the facility was infested with bedbugs and roaches. Worse, the residents of the home were underfed and “at risk of serious injury and health problems.”
After finding numerous bite marks on patients and “blood spatters on linens,” state regulators decided to shutter the facility immediately. That made it difficult to relocate residents. Many could not take their possessions because they were infested. Clothing and other possessions had to be disinfected before they could be brought to the residents’ new homes.
The state’s long term care ombudsman found that many of the residents were distressed by both their care and the suddenness of the move.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that the facility had prior problems with regulators even though it had only been open for a short time. Prior to being shut down, the facility had been cited for unsanitary conditions and medication control issues.
Ilfrenise Charlemagne settled state charges in 2011. As part of her agreement, she agreed not to own an assisted living facility for 5 years.
Patient Abuse, Financial Abuse and Medicaid Fraud
Prosecutors now say that Charlemagne simply changed the name of Hilcrest to Pleasant Alternative and placed another person’s name on the ownership records. (Prosecutors charged her with identity theft after determining the straw owner’s name was used without consent. The charge was later dropped.)
Two years later, Florida again shut down the facility. In 2013, the state found that the facility “posed a serious and immediate danger to residents and the public.” The facility had no properly working heat or air conditioning, residents were deprived of food and medications and the facility was infested with rats and vermin.
This time, prosecutors also say that she stole over $1 million in government benefits intended for residents. They say Charlemagne used the money for credit card payments, for cars and her own personal expenses.
Charlemagne Indicted for Fraud
In 2015, Charlemagne was indicted for the new criminal conduct. Shortly after her indictment, she was arrested in Ft. Lauderdale and brought back to Tampa to face the new charges.
In early 2017, she pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud punishable by 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Charlemagne Unsuccessful Attempt to Avoid Prison
A pretrial sentencing memorandum prepared at the court’s direction recommended a sentence of 6 years. At her sentencing, however, Charlemagne argued that her sentence be just one month in prison or 10 months of house arrest.
Charlemagne claims that she fled to the United States from Haiti and that although not a citizen, she “spent almost a quarter of a century in the United States…[as] a registered nurse that devoted a considerable amount of time on this earth to caring for the sick, the elderly, and the underprivileged before she broke character and committed the criminal conduct to which she plead guilty and which she deeply regrets.”
She argued that her likely loss of her nursing license and deportation was punishment enough for her crimes.
In a letter to the court, her daughter wrote, “We have all been taught about hard work, the importance of education and about the step by step process of being successful. My mom did not take short cuts, she did it right and followed the rules in everything she did. My mother is a strong, proud black women who has dedicated her life for her children, she has never been malicious or intentionally hurt others.”
Prosecutors disagreed and said that she has hurt others. Most notably the very people with whose care she was entrusted. Her patients were aged or mentally ill or both and therefore extremely vulnerable.
Justice Department lawyers argued that Charlemagne’s actions were intentional and that her prior illegal actions should be considered by the court. They also say that she put her patients’ lives in danger.
Charlemagne Sentenced to Prison for Fraud
On April 5th, 2017, United States District Court Judge Mary Scriven ignored Charlemagne’s pleas for a noncustodial sentence and ordered her to serve 33 months in prison. When released, Charlemagne must serve an additional 3 years on supervised probation and pay restitution. The court also ordered the forfeiture of her property and further ordered that she not work in or own a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Charlemagne also faces deportation when released.
The case was investigated by the Florida Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Department of Justice prosecuted the case.
Elder Financial Abuse a Growing Problem
The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population are senior citizens. Many of the baby boomers born just after World War II are now in their 60’s and 70’s. Unfortunately, for many seniors, dementia and other health problems cause them to be susceptible to elder financial abuse schemes.
Ilfrenise Charlemagne’s scheme was unusual because of how many years it occurred and how many victims were involved. Caregivers stealing from patients is nothing new, however.
Elder financial abuse occurs whenever someone improperly takes money or property from an older person. In this case, it involved healthcare but financial abuse schemes can involve many other situations including financial transactions and real estate. The perpetrators can be relatives, stockbrokers, caregivers, neighbors and sometimes, complete strangers.
Older people are often the victims because they usually have significant wealth. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse say that older Americans control 70% of the nation’s wealth. Combine that with isolation, loneliness, frequent mental and cognitive disabilities and dependency on others for help and older Americans are even more at risk for these financial scams.
Help for Victims of Elder Financial Abuse
Luckily there is hope for victims of elder financial abuse. When an older person loses their hard earned money due to the misconduct of others, we can often recover the lost money, and sometimes get additional cash damages too.
If you’re an older American who has been cheated or is the victim of bad financial advice resulting in a loss of more than $500,000 our experienced elder financial fraud and exploitation recovery lawyers can help.