The detectives asked their questions gingerly.
Beside them, in the living room of his modest home in Montgomery County, was a defensive 81-year-old who had once analyzed missile systems for the Air Force.
“I was an engineer,” he said, his voice rising. “I did high mathematics, differential calculus, integral calculus. All that stuff. All kinds of special statistical processing. And now I’m sitting here and you people are treating me like I’m an idiot.”
Also in the room was the 56-year-old woman detectives believed was stealing his money.
Phanta Daramy, a nursing aide, had approached the man at a grocery store — and gone on to befriend him, bank with him and marry him, all within seven days, and not more than two weeks before the detectives were sitting on the couch.
She had already bilked him of more than $50,000. And as the questions grew more pointed, Daramy hijacked the interview.
“I never said, ‘Sign this check for me,’ or ‘Do this,’ ” she said. “No, I don’t have to do that. Love is blind. Love has no age number. This man is not an incompetent man. If he was, he would be in a home.”
On Monday, the case against Daramy ended when Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Anne K. Albright sentenced her to two years in prison and ordered her to repay $65,951 to the victim, who now is under the care of legal guardians.
Albright said she was striking a balance between the victim’s vulnerability and Daramy’s lack of criminal convictions. Daramy also did not physically neglect or abuse the victim, the judge said.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least five years. Daramy’s attorney said she should get less than a year.
The victim had been diagnosed not only with dementia but depression over the loss of his first wife, to whom he was married for more than 50 years.
Daramy spoke in court Monday for 34 minutes, professing her innocence. She also described the pain she said she had suffered growing up in war-torn Liberia.
“Your honor, I have never stolen a dime from no one, ever,” Daramy said.
She was convicted in a trial in May. She blamed that, in part, on the victim not being able to tell his full story from the witness stand.
“This is my first marriage ever in my life,” Daramy said. “I believe it was the intervention of God’s anointing, and my destiny. I never went looking for my husband.” She told the judge she loved her husband and said “I know and believe my husband” loves her in return.
Daramy spent some of the money on jewelry, and authorities said she tried to steal an additional $80,000 from him but was halted by alert banking officials. The victim had even more — at least $150,000 in savings that she could have gotten, said Robert McCarthy, a lawyer now serving as the guardian of the victim’s money.
“She was trying to pick him clean,” McCarthy said.
The swiftness with which Daramy targeted and stole from the victim — who has since been moved to an assisted-living facility — is emblematic of how thieves increasingly target older people who are not only trusting and confused but living alone and craving company.
“It’s all about vulnerability,” said Bob Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition. “And that’s why we’re so concerned about the isolation of older people.”
In 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46 percent of women 75 and older and 23 percent of men that age lived alone. “That is an element of these crimes staring straight at us,” Blancato said.
Last week in Montgomery County, José Bacon, 59, was sentenced to seven years for stealing money from a 95-year-old wheelchair-dependent neighbor who had never married and had no children.
Also pending in the legal system: charges of theft of more than $400,000 against a Rockville man who prosecutors say preyed on an 82-year-old neighbor after driving a wedge between him and family members and preying on the man’s fear of living in a nursing home.
In the Daramy case, the victim was born in New York, served in the Air Force and went on to work for a government contractor in Montgomery County, according to court records and to David Entsminger, a longtime friend. Entsminger used to joke that his friend was so frugal that while renovating part of his house, he removed the drywall, made his repairs and put the same drywall back on rather than purchase new materials.
The man’s first wife died in July 2014. It was in September 2015 that he was at a Giant grocery store in Aspen Hill where he met Daramy, according to authorities.
She was convicted of exploitation of a vulnerable adult, exploitation of a vulnerable adult older than 68, and a theft scheme of more than $10,000.