|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy announced that the owner of an in-home senior care company in Atlantic County pleaded guilty today to engaging in a scheme with her sister and a lawyer to steal millions of dollars from their elderly clients.
Jan Van Holt, 59, of Linwood, the former owner of “A Better Choice,” a company that offered elderly clients in-home care and legal financial planning, pleaded guilty today to first-degree money laundering before Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. in Atlantic County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that she be sentenced to 12 years in state prison, including 5 ½ years of parole ineligibility. She will be jointly and severally liable for full restitution in an amount to be determined. Judge DeLury scheduled sentencing for Van Holt for May 13.
Van Holt was charged in an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice. Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher is prosecuting the defendants and took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. Detective Richard Wheeler led the investigation for the New Jersey State Police Financial Crimes Unit.
Van Holt was indicted on March 16, 2015 along with the following three defendants:
- Sondra Steen, 60, of Linwood, her sister, who helped run A Better Choice,
- Susan Hamlett, 56, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked as an aide for company clients, and
- William Price, 58, of Linwood.
Steen pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering and was sentenced on March 4 to 10 years in state prison, including 4 ½ years of parole ineligibility. Price pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme and stealing $125,000 from a couple he met while working as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services. He was sentenced in October to five years in state prison. Van Holt and Steen conspired with Barbara Lieberman, 64, of Northfield, a lawyer who specialized in elder law, to steal over $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients from January 2003 through December 2012. Lieberman pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced on March 25, 2015 to 10 years in state prison, including 3 ½ years of parole ineligibility. Lieberman forfeited $3 million in assets as well as her law license. The charges against Hamlett are pending. In pleading guilty, Van Holt admitted she conspired with her sister and Lieberman in carrying out the scheme to steal from clients of A Better Choice.
“Van Holt and her sister conspired with an attorney to systematically siphon away the assets of elderly clients, who typically had no family to look after them and trusted their caregivers to treat them honestly,” said Acting Attorney General Lougy. “The treatment these vulnerable victims received was anything but honest; it was devious and heartless.”
“One of our most fundamental duties in law enforcement is to protect the vulnerable in society from criminals who would seek to exploit them,” said Director Elie Honig. “We rightfully reserve some of the harshest penalties for those who prey on children and the elderly. In this case, we have secured prison sentences of 10 years or more for the three women at the heart of this scheme.”
“The crimes that Van Holt and her associates committed were insidious and callous,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The arrest and prosecution of these perpetrators should send a message that the victimization of the most vulnerable members of our society will not be tolerated.”
Van Holt worked as a case worker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services from 2002 through December 2007, when she was terminated. Five of the 12 victims targeted by Van Holt, Steen and Lieberman were recruited as clients after they came into contact with Van Holt through her official public position as a case worker.
Van Holt generally was the one to identify potential clients, approaching them to offer the services of A Better Choice and Lieberman. The defendants targeted elderly clients with substantial assets who typically did not have any immediate family, offering them non-medical care and services, including household chores, errands, driving clients to appointments, scheduling, budgeting, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and other tasks. They did not provide healthcare services.
Once a target accepted Van Holt’s offer of services, Steen usually would be put in place as the victim’s primary caregiver. Lieberman would then be brought in to do legal work, preparing powers of attorney and wills for the clients. Lieberman was a leading specialist in elder law in Atlantic County who gave seminars to senior citizens on end of life affairs, wills and living wills. The defendants took control of the finances of their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one on false pretenses. The defendants then added their names to the victims’ bank accounts or transferred the victims’ funds into new accounts they controlled. Thereafter, the defendants stole from the accounts to pay their own expenses, including, for Van Holt and Steen – who lived together – veterinary bills for their pets, pool supplies, two Mercedes cars owned by Van Holt, and lease payments on a Florida condo.
A portion of the money was used to fund the victim’s expenses to keep the victim unaware of the thefts. In some cases, money from one victim would be transferred to another victim to pay expenses and cover up the thefts. If the victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account allegedly controlled by the defendants. When Lieberman prepared wills for the victims, she typically named herself or Van Holt as executor of the estate and named Steen as a beneficiary, or named other beneficiaries who had little or no ties to the victim and never actually received anything from the estate. The defendants relied on fraud, manipulation or forgery in the execution of the wills. In this manner, they continued to steal from the victims’ estates after they died.
The investigation began after the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian referred a case involving one of the victims to the State Police. Hamlett is charged with second-degree counts of conspiracy, money laundering and theft. The charges are merely accusations and she is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller is handling the state’s forfeiture action. Acting Attorney General Lougy thanked the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian for its referral.