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Charges filed against Lincoln Park ex-nursing home employees accused of bilking 98-year-old woman out of more than $300,000

The two women allegedly took advantage of a Grace Watanabe, who suffers from advanced dementia.

Grace Watanabe

Two former employees of Symphony Residences — a Lincoln Park nursing home — have been charged with swindling a 98-year-old woman out of more than $300,000.

Tameeka Wolfe and Christina Wright were each charged last week with Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Person — a felony, according to a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

The ill-gotten gains represent about half the life savings of Grace Watanabe — a Japanese internment camp survivor who has no living relatives and suffers from advanced dementia.

Wright, who was the activity director at Symphony Residences, transferred $44,850 from Watanabe’s bank account to her own account and received $160,347 worth of checks purportedly from Watanabe, Cook County prosecutor Clarissa Palermo said during a bond hearing Friday.

Wolfe, who was business office manager at the nursing home, transferred $21,900 to herself from Watanabe’s account and received $115,000 worth of checks purportedly from Watanabe, Palermo said.

Watanabe had entrusted Wolfe to help her pay bills, she added.

“An expert in the field of geriatric psychiatry evaluated Ms. Watanabe and opined that she did not have the capacity to make the bank transfers, which were done online,” Palermo said. “He also opined that Ms. Watanabe suffered from dementia and was unable to understand the consequences of her giving away large amounts of money.”

Wolfe and Wright were given $20,000 and $25,000 bonds respectively, placed on electronic monitoring and ordered not to have unsupervised contact with seniors.

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who took emergency custody of Watanabe and found her a new place to live after the money was discovered missing in 2018, had been critical of Foxx’s office for dragging their feet in bringing criminal charges in the case.

“I’m very pleased that criminal charges were finally brought against these perpetrators,” Golbert said Monday.

Golbert, on Watanabe’s behalf, filed a civil lawsuit earlier this year against Wright, Wolfe and several other Symphony employees alleged to have taken part in the scheme. The suit seeks to recoup all of Watanabe’s money — a sum, according to Golbert’s count, that totals about $750,000.

“I’d liked to have seen more charges, but we’re happy that at least the two largest of the crooks, who were also the highest ranking Symphony employees involved in the scheme, have been charged,” Golbert said.

“These two women took the overwhelming majority of money and were clearly the ring leaders,” he said.

In September, the Cook County judge presiding over the civil case ordered several Symphony executives who refuse to sit for depositions be fined $400 a day until they do so.

The fines totaled $6,800 as of Monday.

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 civil suit court hearings at the Daley Center to support Watanabe.