Rockville man sentenced to 3 years in prison for swindling elderly couple
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
A Rockville man accused of swindling at least $189,000 from a 91-year-old widow was sentenced Monday to three years in prison, closing a case that began with a chance encounter at a gas station and ended two years later with the victim living alone, deeply embarrassed and picked clean of her retirement savings.
James Brian Gendimenico, 48, will serve his time in a state prison, a sign that Montgomery County judges are imposing harsher penalties as more elderly people are scammed. Still, given Maryland rules for nonviolent theft cases, Gendimenico could be released before he turns 50.
Documents filed by prosecutors recently indicated Gendimenico's schemes included a $244,776 reverse-mortgage play on the widow's Aspen Hill house.
No one knows exactly how much money was taken or where it went. Gendimenico has been linked to gambling, and said in court Monday he is addicted to pain pills. The total could have involved more than $400,000, according to court filings.
The schemes date back to late 2006. The victim and her husband, who was alive at the time but suffering from dementia, had frugally built up their nest egg over the years and paid off their house. They pulled into a gas station near their house, looking for directions home.
Gendimenico, who was playing Keno inside the station, offered to lead them home. He returned a short time later and began running errands for the couple, helping them around their house.
In court Monday, Gendimenico's attorney, Samantha Sandler, said Gendimenico admitted to stealing money but also was paid for legitimate services. One example of the kind of task he took on: After a different man swindled the couple out of $48,000 for a fake re-roofing job, Gendimenico tried to make it right.
"He waited on them hand and foot," she said.
But such deeds were a central part to the whole plan of ingratiation, said Circuit Judge Eric Johnson. "In virtually all of these cases, that is the way the crimes are committed," he said.
Also at issue was how lucid the victim was. Sandler said the woman knew what was going on when she hired Gendimenico.
But Johnson said the victim sometimes seemed lucid and other times did not. "That's what's so difficult about the aging process, and what makes these people vulnerable," he said.
Gendimenico, who had earlier pleaded guilty to a theft scheme in the case, worked as an office supply salesman in the past. Bank records showed that after befriending the couple, he received $303,444.49 in checks from their numerous bank accounts over a two-year period. Memo sections included phrases such as "Payment of Services" ($1,000) and "Dentist taxes" ($800). During one stretch, six checks totaling $16,084 were written for holiday spending over 20 days in late 2008, even though the victim had no other family than an elderly brother-in-law in Texas, according to prosecutors.
In interviews inside her home, the woman said she trusted Gendimenico because he came across as nice when she needed help caring for her husband. She spoke on the condition she not be named, saying she was ashamed and feared for her safety.
Robert McCarthy, an attorney appointed by the court earlier to manage the woman's remaining finances, said he looked forward to the victim learning from social workers that Gendimenico would be sent to prison because he committed a crime.
"She needs to know she did nothing wrong. It was a cowardly thief who preyed on her," he said after the hearing.