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Judge slaps $400-a-day fine for nursing home execs refusing to discuss resident who was allegedly bilked of $750K

“I think they’re hoping they’ll get off the hook if she dies,” said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who’s representing Grace Watanabe.

Grace Watanabe
Grace Watanabe
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Several executives of a Lincoln Park nursing home are refusing to share what they know about employees who allegedly bilked a 98-year-old resident out of more than $750,000 — so a Cook County judge on Friday imposed a fine of $400 a day until their lips loosen.

The fine was levied as part of a contempt order against executives of Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park who are refusing to sit down for a deposition in a civil lawsuit during which they’d be asked about the treatment of Grace Watanabe, who has advanced dementia.

As of Monday, the fines against the company totaled $1,200.

Neither a company spokesman, nor an attorney representing Symphony, commented on the court-imposed fines.

“This appears to be yet another attempt to delay having to repay Ms. Watanabe the money that was stolen from her at their facility,” said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.

Golbert took emergency custody of Watanabe and removed her from the nursing home in September of 2018 after bank officials alerted authorities to a series of irregular withdrawals.

Golbert said the company is stalling the civil suit as much as possible — waiting for Watanabe to die.

“It’s not clear how much longer she’ll be with us,” Golbert said. “And I think they’re hoping they’ll get off the hook if she dies because as long as she’s alive, they know 100 percent that I’ll be going after them aggressively.”

Should Watanabe, who has no living relatives, pass away before the conclusion of the civil suit against Symphony, the beneficiaries of her will — Misericordia and Mercy Home for Boys & Girls — could step in as complainants, Golbert said.

“If that happens, those charities will have a decision to make,” Golbert said.

Symphony plans to appeal the contempt order and daily financial penalties to Illinois’s First District Appellate Court.

Several of the Symphony employees accused of stealing from Watanabe chose to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights when asked about stealing from Watanabe during depositions in the civil case in recent months.

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.

Hovering over the civil proceedings is the chance that criminal charges could be brought against the nursing home workers who allegedly stole Watanabe’s money.

A decision on criminal charges is expected in the next two weeks, according to Golbert, who recently learned of the timeline from a prosecutor in Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.

Watanabe, who has no living relatives, is a Japanese American who was held in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

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.

Members of Chicago’s Japanese community have been attending court hearings at the Daley Center to support Watanabe.