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Elderly woman scammed out of money meant for her cat

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Randi Berkowitz, 64, and Patricia DiGiacomo, 58, of Brighton were arraigned on April 17, 2014 for scamming an elderly woman with dementia out of $450,000 that was designated for the care of her cat after she passed away, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.

The Brighton women were charged with larceny from a person over 60, multiple counts of embezzlement by a fiduciary and various other offenses. They were released on their own recognizance.

“This is one of the most startling cases of elder exploitation we’ve seen in years,” Conley said. “We believe the defendants exploited a position of trust to drain the victim’s bank account, take ownership of her home, and even buy themselves a new car with her savings. Fortunately, people who knew and cared about the victim reported their suspicions to law enforcement and we were able to seize many of those assets before they were lost forever.”

Berkowitz and DiGiacomo weaseled their way into the victim's life by caring for her 7 year old cat named Puddy Cat. According to Granda, the victim was not close to her family and the cat was “the most important thing in her life.”

Assistant District Attorney Michele Granda said the allegations against the women are two-fold, including theft and lying during civil proceedings regarding the theft. The scheme to swindle the elderly woman out of her money and home began in 2012 when Berkowitz convinced the victim to name her power of attorney, as well as administrator of her will. This gave Berkowitz and her accomplice “unrestricted access” to the elderly woman's money.

On top of the unrestricted access, the scam artists managed to get the victim to sign over blank checks. With the money, the two women allegedly bought a car, an iPad, kitchen supplies, food, exercise equipment and retained attorneys for prior criminal cases against them. They also opened six credit cards in the victim's name. To top it off, they allegedly got the victim to sign over ownership of her condominium.

The victim had created a “Puddy Cat Trust” in her will, as well as naming 23 animal welfare organizations to receive the remainder of the funds from the trust and sale of her condominium after her cat had passed. DiGiacomo was named trustee of the trust.

In 2013, the victim was told by caring people what was going on and she immediately had the locks changed to her condominium. Berkowitz and DiGiacomo allegedly got a locksmith to change the locks back. Eventually, the property manager changed the front locks of the building and the two women were unable to access the victim's property.

The two women started liquidating the assets they stole from the elderly woman while the criminal investigation got closer to finding them. State Police got a search warrant on their apartment and recovered $64,000 in cash, uncashed money orders and bank checks. Their accounts were frozen and the car taken.

They appear in court on May 15.

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