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Public guardian: Why no criminal charges in case of swindled 98-year-old woman?

Charles Golbert asked for charges against five former nursing home employees and a separate caretaker.

Employees of the Symphony of Lincoln Park nursing home are accused of taking more than $600,000 from a woman who lived there. | Google maps.
Employees of the Symphony of Lincoln Park nursing home are accused of taking more than $600,000 from a woman who lived there.
Google Maps

The Cook County public guardian on Wednesday accused the state’s attorney office of dragging its feet in charging former employees of a Lincoln Park nursing home and a caretaker of swindling a 98-year-old woman out of $750,000.

”I think it’s a rock-solid case,” said Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who took emergency custody of Grace Watanabe and removed her from Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park in September 2018 — days after bank officials alerted authorities to a series of irregular withdrawals.

Watanabe is a Japanese internment camp survivor who suffers from dementia.

”We tied it up in a nice red bow and turned it over to the state’s attorney’s office,” Golbert said of the findings gathered by his office and by a financial crimes detective with the Chicago Police Department.

In a letter sent to Foxx last month, Golbert asked that five former employees and a separate caretaker be charged.

“They could be working in other nursing homes, stealing money from other people’s grandparents and other people’s parents,” Golbert said Wednesday.

Golbert made his comments outside the Daley Center courtroom where he is representing Watanabe in a civil lawsuit against Symphony.

Foxx’s office emailed a statement Wednesday, saying that it cannot make a decision to charge until the case is fully evaluated, pointing out that state’s attorney’s officials just received additional material from the public guardian’s office last week.

“We take this matter very seriously and while we understand the frustration with its pace, we have a responsibility to ensure both a diligent and thorough investigation,” the statement from Foxx’s office said.

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert
Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert
Sun-Times file photo
Grace Watanabe
Grace Watanabe
Courtesy of Charles Golbert

Golbert said Wednesday the alleged thieves refused to answer questions during depositions.

Golbert said it was especially frustrating that the nursing home’s executive director also invoked her Fifth Amendment rights during a deposition even though she’s not accused of taking part in the theft.

“By doing that, her story is ‘It would incriminate me to explain what I knew and what I did or did not do about it, and when I knew and when I did or did not do anything about it,’” Golbert said.

The money, largely stolen by forging checks and using Watanabe’s ATM card, was spent on things such as jewelry, travel, ride-hailing services and fast food, according to Golbert’s office.

Watanabe is living at a different nursing home in Cook County, Golbert said.

She has no living relatives and should she pass away before the conclusion of the civil suit, the beneficiaries of her will — Misericordia and Mercy Home for Boys & Girls — could step in as complainants.

A statement Wednesday night from Symphony read, “The safety and well-being of our residents is our utmost concern. Upon learning of the incident involving Ms. Wantanabe, we immediately notified law enforcement authorities to investigate and seek restitution for Ms. Watanabe, and we are cooperating with those agencies.

“We require our team members perform their duties with the highest standards and ethical integrity,” the statement continued. “The employees involved in this matter are no longer employed at this facility, and we have conducted extensive retraining for the remaining staff on compliance standards and company policies related to residents’ rights, procedures for suspected cases of theft, and rules on accepting gifts from residents and their families, which is strictly prohibited.”

Watanabe was held in Arizona’s Poston internment camp from 1942 to 1946. She was born in Santa Cruz, California, in 1921 and after her release earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.