Suit alleges nursing home employees conned woman out of $850K

CHICAGO -- Employees at a Chicago home for senior citizens are accused of stealing $850,000 from a woman with dementia.

The Cook County Public Guardian’s office filed a lawsuit against Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park Wednesday.

Grace Watanabe, 97, survived the hardships of a World War II Japanese internment camp.    But investigators she couldn’t overcome an alleged scam that allegedly took place at the  senior residence.

A group of concerned Japanese-Americans expressed their outrage at a rally at the Daley Center and demanded justice.

“It’s a shocking betrayal of trust and theft,”  attorney Steve Levin said of Symphony Residences of Lincoln Park’s parent company Symcare HMG LLC.  The company and a host of other entities and contractors are all named in a lawsuit along with seven residence workers.  According to the Cook County Public Guardian, they forged signatures to fraudulently cash check in amounts of $30, $50 and $10,000 each, allegedly using Watanabe’s passwords and PIN numbers.  In some instances, they would allegedly take cash through ATMs or electronic withdrawls in excess of a $850,000.

“There were two employees that we believe got the most amount of money,” Said Dawn Lawkowski-Keller of Cook County Public Guardian.  “Christina Wright, assistant activities director, she took well over $300,000 from Ms. Watanabe and then Tameeka Wolfe and her daughter, who took well over $280,000.”

Efforts to reach Wright and Wolfe for comment were unsuccessful but they reportedly say Watanabe authorized the withdrawls as “gifts” for the workers.

But the Cook County Guardian does not believe that to be true and they say the now former senior home workers could be facing criminal charges.

In a written statement, lawyers for Symphony Residences said management was shocked to learn about the withdrawls.   And that Symphony executives have been transparent with investigators.

The employees suspected of involvement are no longer employed at the facility and all staff were retrained in company policies relating to receiving gifts from residents and their families. The team at the Residences has done everything in its power to prevent this from happening again. … If they were supervising their employees appropriately we don’t believe this would have happened.

The case heads to court in January.