TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (“OIFP”) announced that a Pennsylvania woman was sentenced to three years in state prison for stealing nearly $78,000 from an elderly relative who suffers from dementia and resides in a long-term care facility in Warren County, New Jersey.
Deanna Attinello, 26, of Easton, Pennsylvania, also must pay $48,000 in restitution under the sentence handed down by Superior Court Judge H. Matthew Curry in Warren County on March 8.
Attinello pleaded guilty last November to second-degree misapplication of entrusted property in connection with funds stolen from her 86-year-old great aunt, who was under Attinello’s legal guardianship.
“Financial abuse of the elderly is even more egregious when it deprives a victim of funds needed to provide for proper care in an institutional setting,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The prison sentence handed down to this defendant sends a clear message that those who cruelly prey on New Jersey’s vulnerable senior citizens will be held accountable.”
In January 2017 Attinello was appointed by a court to be her great aunt’s legal guardian and was given unfettered access to her aunt’s financial assets, which were meant to pay for her care and expenses at a long-term care facility in Warren Township.
Prosecutors allege that just days following her appointment as guardian, Attinello began withdrawing large amounts of cash from the elderly woman’s account and writing checks to herself, her boyfriend, and her father. Within four months Attinello had drained over $77,000, leaving the elderly woman with just under $26,000, according to prosecutors.
The indictment against Attinello was obtained by OIFP’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (“MFCU”), which receives federal funding to investigate and prosecute Medicaid provider fraud as well as the abuse or neglect of Medicaid patients, or patients who reside in facilities that receive Medicaid funding.
“Sadly, the elderly are most likely to be exploited by family members and other trusted individuals,” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Tracy M. Thompson. “Through our MFCU’s Elder Protection Task Force we will continue to protect our vulnerable institutionalized population against exploitation and abuse by investigating and bringing charges in cases like this.”
In 2018 the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit launched the Elder Protection Task Force (“EPTF.”) The EPTF investigates allegations of financial exploitation, abuse or neglect of elderly and incapacitated adults receiving Medicaid benefits in the State of New Jersey. This includes complaints of patient abuse or neglect against individuals providing care to Medicaid beneficiaries residing in any setting, as well as patient or resident abuse or neglect in health care facilities receiving Medicaid funding such as nursing homes, regardless of whether the victim is a Medicaid beneficiary.
Individuals who suspect abuse or neglect - including financial exploitation -of the elderly are urged to call the EPTF hotline at 609-292-1272. Callers’ identities will be kept confidential.
Deputy Attorney General Fernando Maldonado represented the State at sentencing. Detective Celeste Dowd coordinated the investigation.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Thompson thanked the New Jersey Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized for referring the case to the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit within the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Thompson noted that important cases have started with anonymous tips. People who are concerned about insurance cheating and have information about a fraud can report it anonymously by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-877-55-FRAUD, or visiting the Web site at www.NJInsurancefraud.org. State regulations permit a reward to be paid to an eligible person who provides information that leads to an arrest, prosecution and conviction for insurance fraud.