Former caregivers charged with stealing life savings from Japanese internment camp survivor

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Former caregivers charged with stealing life savings from Japanese internment camp survivor
Former caregivers charged with stealing life savings from Japanese internment camp survivor

Two former employees of a Lincoln Park nursing home in Chicago were arrested last week for allegedly stealing up to $750,000 in life savings from dementia patient Grace Watanabe, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Tameeka Wolfe, 40, was Symphony Residences’ business manager, and Christina Wright, 32, was the activity director. Both were charged with one felony count of financial exploitation from an elderly person. Prosecutors allege that Wolfe stole $136,900 and Wright stole $205,197 from 98-year-old longtime resident Watanabe. They allegedly wrote checks from her bank account without her permission, and she did not have the cognitive capacity to provide consent.

In the lawsuit filed against the home in November 2018, Watanabe’s lawyers accused the nursing home employees of stealing $750,000 via unauthorized use of her ATM card and writing more fraudulent checks, the Chicago Sun Times reported.

The employees used the money to take vacations, purchase items such as jewelry and new cars for themselves, according to depositions. Some who cut themselves checks from Watanabe’s bank account wrote in the memo area that it was a “gift,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Wolfe and Wright combined took about half a million dollars, Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said.

“You know, I’m just angry and terribly disappointed,” Watanabe told CBS Chicago.

Watanabe has no living family, and cannot make legal decisions on her own due to her condition.

The Japanese American community rallied behind her after learning she had been subjected to living in American internment camps during World War II. The Chicago Tribune reported that Watanabe was held at the Poston camp in Arizona from 1942 to 1946.

Members of the Japanese American Citizens League in Chicago attended Watanabe’s case hearings and sent her holiday cards and gifts as signs of support.

“We have a lot of … members who are in their 60s who either see Grace reflected in their own parents or who see themselves in Grace,” Chicago chapter president Lisa Doi told the Chicago Tribune. “There is just a lot of action to try to mobilize and support her recognizing that she doesn’t have anyone else.”

The case, filed in Cook County probate court, is still ongoing.

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