Norfolk, Va. - 91-year-old Edward Whitehead`s final years were difficult. Dementia was robbing him of his memory and an attendant was draining his bank account.
”She portrayed herself as a caregiver. She immediately took over and controlled everything,” says Susan Lewis, Daughter of Fraud Victim.
Susan Lewis is talking about Diane Harvell, the woman hired to provide transportation for their father and help with small tasks. What happened next is a warning for all families.
”She managed to weasel her way into the family, and ostracized him from his children, managed to convince him that she was the only one he could trust,” says Michael Van de Putte, Postal Inspector.
”She wanted to keep us away. If she could keep us away that way we couldn`t force her into court or get more information on her.'
Harvell convinced Whitehead to sign over his power of attorney. She then altered his will and forged notary public signatures - all without his family knowing.
”She signed all documents as if she were his daughter. She signed Do Not Resuscitate,” says Susan Lewis, Fraud Victim.
When Edward Whitehead died, none of his family knew.
”This woman was 10 steps ahead of us; the moment we found out our father was deceased... We found out that evening, the next morning she was down there filing a forged will. The next morning. Wow. That was fast,” says Lewis.
Postal inspectors began pouring over bank records and surveillance video like this. And verified Harvell stole hundreds of thousands of dollars.
”She took his money in structured withdrawals, less than $10,000 from the bank, drained over $200,000 of his personal savings,” says Michael Van de Putte, Postal Inspector.
Investigators say her control and his dementia were a terrible combination.
”Senior citizens generally have savings, or a decent amount of money, and are generally easy targets because they are very trusting,” says Van de Putte.
Some advice from postal inspectors, don`t wait until it`s too late to set up a plan that protects your elderly loved ones.
”Be wary of any new person coming into your life especially if you are dealing with a senior citizen, or a parent, grandparent that suffers from demntia/Alzheimers,” says Van de Putte.
”What she has done. The woman has no feelings... there is something mentally, seriously mentally wrong with this woman. She absolutely has no heart whatsoever...,” says Lewis.
Harvell faces mail theft, ID theft, mail fraud, forgery and several other charges. Postal inspectors say she could face up to 15 years in prison.