Lawyers for a 97-year-old survivor of a Japanese internment camp alleged Thursday that her caregivers swindled her out of an additional $150,000, raising the total sum to $750,000.
Five ex-employees of Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park plus a hairdresser and caregiver funneled money from Grace Watanabe’s bank account while she was impaired with dementia, according to a Thursday press release from her temporary guardian Charles P. Golbert.
Golbert, Cook County’s publicly appointed acting guardian, filed a petition in the county’s circuit court Sept. 6 to track down what happened to Watanabe’s money. He accused the nursing home employees of looting at least $650,000 from her bank accounts via fraudulent checks and unauthorized use of her ATM card.
On Thursday, Golbert announced the new total amount allegedly stolen from Watanabe was $750,000 and that he was partnering with the private law firm Levin & Perconti.
“Ms. Watanabe lived a frugal life and was disciplined about saving for her retirement,” Steven M. Levin, founding partner of the firm, said in a Thursday statement. “We are committed to bringing the full resources of our firm to … [ensure] that this can never happen again.”
Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday morning. The day of Golbert’s legal filing, the facility released a statement saying officials there were “shocked and saddened” several months ago to learn that “a beloved, longtime resident was giving money to its employees, the receipt of which was a violation of company policy.”
The Sept. 6 statement said the nursing home alerted police and was working with the state, Watanabe and her banks to investigate wrongdoing.
From 2010 until this year, Watanabe lived in the Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park, 2437 North Southport Ave., according to the legal petition. Dr. Geoffrey Shaw deemed late August that she had been unable to make financial decisions since at least 2016 after she expressed suspicion of employees exploiting her bank accounts.
Watanabe, who has no living family, was held in Arizona’s Postom internment camp from 1942 to 1946, the petition said. She was born in Santa Cruz, California, in 1921 and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois in Chicago after her release.
The legal petition names Symphony Residences CEO David Hartman, the Lincoln Park facility’s owner Bernard Hollander, the five employees accused of swindling Watanabe, a privately appointed caregiver and a hairdresser who worked inside the home.
Bank of America alerted the Illinois Adult Protective Services program about suspicious withdrawals from her account, which brought the public guardian’s office into the case.
The activity director at the nursing home took more than $200,000 from Watanabe’s accounts at Bank of America, the petition said. One $5,000 check was marked “Happy Birthday.” The activity director resigned on July 6, the filing said.
The business manager, who also resigned in July, and two of her daughters cashed more than $163,000 in checks from Watanabe’s account at JPMorgan Chase, the petition said. One check was for $50,000 and was marked “gift.”
A receptionist got $65,000 and an assistant activity director took $25,000, the filing said. A hairdresser cashed a check for $15,000, according to the petition.
No criminal charges have been filed by Chicago police yet. Golbert said his petition may lead to a lawsuit to recover Watanabe’s stolen funds.
Contributing: Frank Main