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Decision on criminal charges soon in case of 98-year-old woman allegedly swindled by Lincoln Park nursing home employees

A civil lawsuit seeking to recover the $750,000 is ongoing, but members of Chicago’s Japanese community want criminal charges filed.

Grace Watanabe
Grace Watanabe
Photo courtesy of Charles Golbert

A decision by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office on whether to criminally charge employees of a Lincoln Park nursing home accused of bilking a 98 year-old-woman with dementia out of more than $700,000 is expected in the next three weeks.

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who took emergency custody of Grace Watanabe and removed her from Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park in September of 2018 after bank officials alerted authorities to a series of irregular withdrawals, said that Foxx’s office had been in touch with him the previous day to share the news.

“I intend to hold them to that three weeks,” Golbert said Friday outside a Daley Center courtroom after a hearing in a separate and ongoing civil lawsuit seeking to recover Watanabe’s stolen savings.

Golbert, who’s been critical of Foxx for taking too long to file charges, said he was relieved to hear there’d finally be a decision on criminal charges in the coming weeks.

Wattanabe is a Japanese American who was held in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

In a statement issued Friday, Foxx’s office did not confirm the timeline, saying only that the investigation is ongoing.

Golbert wrote Foxx’s office in May asking that five employees at Symphony be charged criminally, noting that several of them chose to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights when asked about stealing from Watanabe during depositions in the civil case.

Watanabe’s money — largely stolen through forged checks and using Watanabe’s ATM card — was spent on jewelry, travel, ride-hailing services and fast food, according to Golbert’s office.

In court Friday, Golbert told Cook County Circuit Court Judge Aicha MacCarthy that his office plans to meet with Symphony executives next week in hopes of working out times where they too would sit for depositions in the civil case. Another hearing was set for Sept. 20.

An attorney representing Symphony didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, a Symphony spokesman said the employees were no longer working at the nursing home, and that other employees have undergone retraining.

“We will continue to work with law enforcement, and we remain committed to ensuring safeguards are in place to prevent an incident like this from happening again,” the statement read.

Golbert accused Symphony of trying to extend court proceedings in the hopes that Watanabe would die before the case can reach a conclusion.

“It doesn’t take a PhD in actuary mathematics to realize what they’re doing. Ms. Watanabe is 98 and suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease,” he 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, Golbert said.

Members of Chicago’s Japanese community were in court Friday to offer their support.

“We’re really hoping to see that restitution is made and that Symphony is prosecuted and also faces the consequences of their actions in terms of how they’re running their organization,” said Michael Takada, head of the Japanese American Service Committee, a Chicago organization that serves the city’s Japanese community.

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. After her release, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois in Chicago.