A 97-year-old woman held in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II was bilked out of more than $600,000 last year by the staff of a North Side nursing home, according to a legal document filed Thursday by the Cook County acting public guardian.
Grace Watanabe, who suffers from dementia, was living at the Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park where the business manager, two activity directors, a receptionist and a hairdresser allegedly looted her bank account, according to the petition entered in Cook County Circuit Court to determine what happened to her money .
Named in the petition are the nursing home’s owner Bernard Hollander, CEO David Hartman and the five employees who allegedly took the money from Watanabe.
Chicago Police are investigating the claims, but no one has been charged with a crime in connection to the case, said Charles Golbert, the acting Cook County public guardian.
Golbert said the public guardian’s petition could lead to a lawsuit to recover the money.
Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park released a statement Thursday 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 facility contacted police and worked with the state, Watanabe and her bank to gather facts, according to the statement.
“The employees suspected of involvement are no longer employed at the facility and all staff were retrained in policies relating to receiving gifts from residents and their families,” the statement said.
Watanabe was born in Santa Cruz, California in 1921 and was held in the Poston internment camp from 1942 to 1946 during World War II, Golbert said.
He said Watanabe appears to have lived in California until 1985. She attended the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned a degree in social studies and English, he said. She is now in a new facility.
“She has been placed in one of the city’s top nursing homes, the location we want to keep confidential for now, where she will receive the compassionate care she deserves,” Golbert said.
According to the petition, Watanabe told her doctor that she asked a staff member to help her with her finances but later discovered that employee took money from her account. She also told the doctor that she didn’t know the value of her estate.
Watanabe couldn’t name all of the employees who allegedly took money from her, but bank records showed five employees cashed her checks and used her ATM card, according to the lawsuit.
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.
Watanabe, who can’t care for herself, had been living in her own apartment in the facility at 2437 N. Southport Ave. since 2010.
She’s never been married and her only known family member, brother Mark Watanabe, died in 2009.
According to the Medicare.gov website, Symphony of Lincoln Park is rated as “below average” with a $15,993 fine assessed against it in late 2016. Government inspections of the facility have uncovered more than 40 “deficiencies” in recent years, according to the website. Among the problems uncovered in 2016: staff failed to monitor medications, causing a resident “actual harm,” the website says.
A website for the nursing home says its parent company operates 23 other facilities in Illinois and northwest Indiana.