Last year Tina Marie Teixeira, 27, was an employee of Market Street, the assisted living facility on Palm Coast Parkway. She was using the job and the trust she had gained from residents as her ATM, defrauding residents by swiping cash cards, using their checks or cash apps. In one case, she defrauded the 84-year-old spouse of a resident dying of Alzheimer’s–a man she said she loved as much as her grandfather–of $4,166.
It is one of innumerable cases of defrauding the elderly–the kind of cases that last August led Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly to host a free summit with presentations on common scams and frauds that target older people–“one of the most vulnerable populations in our community for criminals to prey on,” the sheriff said at the time. A June study by the AARP found that victims over 60 lose over $28 billion a year to scams.
Teixeira, the mother of three young children–ages 8, 4 and 2–was arrested in late July and charged with five felonies, including a second-degree felony count of fraud. She pleaded. Sentencing guidelines had her serving three and a half years in prison. Instead, she will serve a year at the local jail (a day short of prison time), followed by two years under house arrest, followed by three years on probation, not including a four-year probation term to which she was sentenced in Volusia County last April for writing a worthless check there.
Circuit Judge Robert K. Rouse Jr. imposed the sentence today at the county courthouse in Bunnell. “I’m doing it with a heavy, heavy heart,” he said, after imposing the full 364 days in jail. That jail term was the one part of the plea agreement that was up to him to decide.
Richard Price, the defense attorney, argued for no jail time, citing Teixeira’s responsibility for her three children and her mother. Assistant State Attorney Tara Libby argued for the full 364 days, saying that was already a considerable departure from the guidelines. She noted that Teixeira’s mother had moved in with her after the plea agreement, knowing fully well that her daughter was facing likely jail time. The implicit suggestion was that Teixeira’s mother had moved in as a tactical move, hoping it might help sway the court away from a jail term.
For all the sympathy he felt for all parties involved, including Teixeira’s family, the judge said he could not let sympathy dictate the sentence. Rouse said he was surprised by the plea, but found the agreement fair, though at least one of the victims had wanted prison time. “In many cases, this would have been a three-year incarceration situation, maybe more,” Rouse said.
“Your client and her family, her children, have suffered, and are going to suffer in the future,” Rouse said, extending the circle of those victimized by Teixeira’s actions not only to her direct victims, but to her family.
The victim who lost $4,166 testified. (Her bank has reimbursed her the money.) She recalled seeing and interacting with Teixiera several times a day there, and hearing Teixiera speak to her in the friendliest ways. “‘I love you so much and everything else,'” she quoted her as telling her, “then to turn around and do these things to people who are totally helpless: we were very trusting.”
The victim noticed on her bank statements a run of charges she had not made: $505 at Walgreens, $264 for a business called I Don’t Give a Shirt, $549 at Walmart, $73 at Bamboo Creek, the Chinese restaurant, $141 at Petsmart, for a bird, numerous fast food charges, a charge for a trip to Daytona Lagoon, and so on. Around the same time Teixiera attempted to cash a check from the account of a 94-year-old resident. Teixiera had also managed to call the wife of a resident and claim that her husband owed money, thus gaining the resident’s credit card number, which was then used for $1,160 in charges through Facebook Pay. There were other such schemes.
“She’s been a repeat offender and I can’t believe that they hired her at Market Street with her background,” the victim told the court. In Volusia County, Teixiera’s plea was entered a few months before the case in Flagler County was uncovered, though by then Teixiera had been working at the assisted living facility for a while. Adjudication was withheld in the Volusia case–not so in the Flagler case. Teixiera is now a convicted felon several times over, and is barred from holding certain jobs. She had recently graduated from Flagler Technical Institute with a certification in phlebotomy. She may not hold jobs in that industry.
When Teixiera addressed the court today, she said, with great contrition and substantial tears, that she had done it all to keep her keeps from want, that none of it was for drugs or unreasonable charges, and that she did not see the faces behind the money–just the money. She apologized to the victim, too. Libby questioned her about paying only for bills, pointing out the Daytona Lagoon and other charges she said were “not necessities.”
“I was in a desperate time of need. It was a wrong, wrong choice of mine,” Teixiera told the court. “But the way that I grew up, I didn’t want my kids to grow up with that. I just wanted them to be able to have dinner without, you know, wondering when food is coming or why we’re homeless or anything like that.” The father of her oldest child had died, she had lost her house, her car, most of her family is no longer speaking with her because of the case, she said.
Nevertheless, she stole from vulnerable people wo had trusted her. “This is a crime of opportunity where she was placed in a position where elderly people are disabled, they have their family visiting them. Some of them don’t have family visiting them at all,” Libby said. “And she was the one assisting in their day to day care. She made the conscious choice to steal from these residents of the facility. she’d sit here and claim that she loved them and treat him as her grandfather. You don’t steal from people that you love. And a lot of these–some of these people that she stole from were in the memory care unit. She wasn’t expecting the victim to put two and two together. Either that or she didn’t care.”
Price asked the judge to allow her to serve her jail time on weekends, or two days a week, as the court at times allows certain people to do. Teixiera was working full-time at a Palm Coast convenience store. The judge did not allow it, though he allowed her to report to the courthouse for jail in two weeks, giving her time to put her affairs in order–and to spend Halloween with her children.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of elder fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline:
Monday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. eastern time
English/Español/Other languages available.