By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; B01
The scheme got its start, Montgomery County prosecutors said Monday, when an 87-year-old woman pulled into a gas station 3 1/2 years ago looking for directions home.
A man playing Keno, James Brian Gendimenico, offered to help, and led her and her husband to their nearby house in his own car.
During the next 2 1/2 years, according to prosecutors, he engaged in a crime that is expected to increase nationwide as the population grows older: He won her confidence, helping her with errands, bills and chores.
And stole her money.
Gendimenico, 48, pleaded guilty to a theft scheme Monday. He could face 15 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 9, but he is likely to get less because of state sentencing guidelines.
How much he took remains unclear and is expected to be determined at a hearing before sentencing.
Prosecutors say he stole at least $180,000 from the couple, who had no children and lived modestly on fixed incomes in the Glenmont area. As the husband's health deteriorated, Gendimenico persuaded the wife to grant him power of attorney and received more than 350 checks from the couple's bank accounts, according to prosecutors. By the time her husband died, she could no longer afford to bury him.
"He picked her clean," said Robert McCarthy, a lawyer appointed by the court to manage the widow's finances.
Montgomery County is seeing more cases like this. In early March, Roger Greenberg, 68, was convicted of swindling more than $100,000 from an 84-year-old woman whom he persuaded to marry him in a ceremony in the front seat of his car.
"People are figuring out we've got a bunch of rich old people here," said McCarthy, who also is involved in the Greenberg case.
"I'm seeing too many of these cases," Montgomery District Court Judge Gary Crawford said last year at an early hearing in the Gendimenico investigation.
"It's a huge problem," said Peggy Odick, an attorney for the county. "We're seeing tons of them, but he's actually wiped her out. There's nothing left."
Gendimenico's attorney, Samantha Sandler, declined to comment after Monday's hearing and instructed Gendimenico not to respond to questions.
In two interviews in her living room, the victim, now 91, said she regretted befriending him.
"I trusted him. He was so nice," she said Sunday.
She spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she was deeply embarrassed and fears for her safety because she is frail and lives alone. She has trouble remembering dates, needs a walker to shuffle around her small home and said her life has been ruined.
Her comments were confirmed by prosecutors and McCarthy, who was appointed to recover money on her behalf.
She said she was relieved the case didn't go to trial because she didn't want to speak in open court. "The money is gone. Why put myself through any more?" she said.
One of the few trips she makes every week is to Ruffles of London, a salon near her home. It was there that beauticians started noticing her showing up with Gendimenico about three years ago.
They said they got concerned when she told them that Gendimenico was advising her to take out a loan against her house.
"She's so naive and innocent, and things weren't adding up," beautician Tina Becker said. "She's just a very sweet lady who didn't have anyone to care for her."
The beauticians decided to call the county authorities, which led to an investigation.
Gendimenico was indicted July 30 on one count of exploitation of a vulnerable adult and one count of a theft scheme over $500, the maximum charge at the time, according to prosecutors.
When Gendimenico, who then lived in Rockville, was asked his occupation as part of an initial court appearance questionnaire, he stated: "Take care of elderly people."
Under a plea deal, prosecutors have agreed to drop the exploitation count.
In court Monday, prosecutor Robert Hill said checks on the couple's accounts started being written to Gendimenico in early 2007. In April 2007, 18 checks were made payable to Gendimenico totaling $10,372. The comment section on the checks included "Home Depot, house, transportation, new blinds, fishing trip, licenses, Brian's car, wheelchair, medical supplies, hairdresser, house, cash and so on," Hill said.
Prosecutors say Gendimenico pocketed much of the money.