Barbara Lieberman, 62, of Northfield, and Jan Van Holt, 57, of Linwood, allegedly stole over $2 million from at least 10 victims. Van Holt’s sister and a former employee are also charged in the investigation conducted by the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice.
Lieberman, an attorney who specializes in elder law, was arrested at her home on Northwood Court on Wednesday. Investigators also executed search warrants on her office on New Road in Northfield.
She was lodged in jail with bail set at $300,000. The state froze approximately $5 million in assets Lieberman holds in various accounts, which it will seek to use for restitution.
Van Holt owns “A Better Choice,” a company that purportedly offered seniors “custom designed life care and legal financial planning.” She was arrested at her home on West Vernon Avenue on Wednesday.
She was also lodged in jail with bail set at $300,000.
Both women were charged by complaint with first-degree money laundering, second-degree conspiracy and second-degree theft by deception.
Van Holt’s sister, 58-year-old Linwood resident Sondra Steen, was previously charged with second-degree theft by deception. Steen lives with Van Holt and helps her operate her company.
Susan Hamlett, 55, of Egg Harbor Township, was also previously charged with second-degree theft by deception. She worked for the company as an aid to the clients.
The defendants allegedly targeted elderly clients with substantial assets who typically did not have any immediate family. They would offer non-medical care and assistance, including financial and legal services.
The defendants allegedly took control of the victims’ finances by forging a power of attorney or obtaining it under false pretenses. The defendants then added their names to the victims’ bank accounts or transferred the victims’ funds into new accounts they controlled.
They would then siphon the money to pay their own expenses.
Van Holt allegedly purchased two Mercedes cars, a condo in Florida, pool supplies and veterinary bills for her pets. Lieberman allegedly used stolen funds to pay off six-figure credit card bills.
In one case, the defendants allegedly put a reverse mortgage for $195,000 on a 94-year-old woman’s home. That victim died in a nursing home because she could not afford to live in her home after her assets allegedly were stolen. Lieberman and Van Holt also executed the wills of some of the victims and allegedly continued to steal from their estates after they died.
“These women allegedly preyed ruthlessly on elderly clients, most of whom were facing the end of life without family and with only their savings to ensure they would be cared for properly,” Hoffman said. “We’re supposed to honor our elders, but these women heartlessly exploited them, allegedly stripping them of their life savings and their ability to live out their final days in comfort, peace and dignity. This is an ongoing investigation, and we urge any individuals who suspect that they or their loved ones may have had their assets stolen by these defendants to notify us.”
The Division of Criminal Justice has a toll-free tip line -1-866-TIPS-4CJ- for the public to report financial fraud and other crimes confidentially.
The alleged scam ran from 2006-2013. Van Holt previously worked for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services as a case worker. After she left that job in 2006, she started “A Better Choice.”
Those who worked for the company, including Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett, performed a variety of services for clients, including household chores, errands, driving clients to appointments, scheduling, budgeting, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and other tasks. They did not provide healthcare services. Van Holt also created a company called “Elder Hospice,” but it was nothing more than a bank account.
Van Holt and Lieberman referred clients to each other. Lieberman allegedly would prepare powers of attorney and draft wills for the victims. In some cases, she named herself as having the power of attorney, while other times she named the other defendants.
Whoever had the power of attorney allegedly wrote checks or made electronic transfers to the defendants from the victim’s account or a new joint account.
Other checks and transfers allegedly were used to pay the defendants’ bills. A portion of the money, however, was used to fund the victim’s continued expenses, allegedly to keep the victim unaware of the thefts. It is alleged that, 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 controlled by the defendants.
The defendants would sometimes use the powers of attorney to transfer the victim’s assets into Lieberman’s Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA). Lawyers are required to maintain IOLTA accounts to safeguard funds entrusted to them by or on behalf of clients. However, Lieberman allegedly would write checks from her IOLTA account to herself, Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett.
In one instance, the defendants
allegedly stole $320,000 from a woman in her 90’s. The woman met Lieberman
while living at the Jeffries Tower in Atlantic City, where Lieberman offered a
legal seminar for seniors.
The woman hired Van Holt, who was named power
of attorney for her and executrix of her will. The victim had a son and a
daughter, but Lieberman allegedly refused to discuss the victim’s affairs with
them, citing attorney-client privilege.
The daughter, who visited her mother frequently, said she was not told when her mother was moved first to a nursing home in Galloway Township and later to the Eastern Pines Convalescent Center in Atlantic City, where she died in 2010. The defendants allegedly stole from the victim’s estate after she died.
The defendants also allegedly stole
more than $500,000 from an Atlantic City woman who died at 91; $487,000 from a
Margate couple, who died at 81 and 85; $109,000 from a Northfield woman who
died at 92; $72,000 from a Northfield woman who died at 85; nearly $26,000 from
an Egg Harbor Township woman who died at 90; and $20,000 from a Cape May Court
House woman who is 88.
In each case, Lieberman, Van Holt and Steen allegedly continued to provide services to the victim while stealing the victim’s money. They allegedly hid their thefts from the victims while waiting for them to die.
Hoffman, New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig, Ray Guidetti, Commander of the State Police Intelligence Section and Director David Rebuck of the Division of Gaming Enforcement made the announcement Thursday morning in Voorhees, Camden County.
Rebuck dedicated resources from his division to conduct the investigation, including personnel assigned to the Division of Gaming Enforcement from the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice.
The lead detective is Detective Richard Wheeler of the New Jersey State Police Financial Crimes Unit. Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher of the Casino Prosecutions Unit is the lead prosecutor on the case, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Paul Salvatoriello, Acting Deputy Bureau Chief. Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian, which initially referred the case to the State Police. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller is handling the state’s forfeiture action.
First-degree money laundering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, including a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed, and a fine of up to $500,000. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.