Woman denies exploiting elderly person

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BRATTLEBORO -- A Bennington, N.H., woman pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday to 16 counts of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

Jodi LaClaire was a licensed nurses assistant employed at the Thompson House, an assisted living residence and nursing home in Brattleboro, from January 2008 to March 27, 2009.

On the same day one of the residents was rushed to the hospital, LaClaire allegedly began using the sick woman's credit card to make cash withdrawals totaling more than $4,000. All transactions, attempted and completed, were found to exceed $8,000, according to court documents.

Dane Rank, Thompson House administrator, said that to his knowledge, there have been no prior cases of exploitation at Thompson House.

"We do four background checks on all of our employees," Rank said, adding that Thompson House initiated the police investigation.

"It's our job to make sure that these people who can't defend themselves are kept safe and are cared for," Rank said.

According to Rank and court documents, LaClaire was a LNA with a valid license from the state of Vermont. She was suspended March 27, 2009, at the first hint of wrong-doing, Rank said.

"She terminated herself while on suspension," he said.

A joint investigation into the death and financial exploitation of Nita Lowery, 85, was conducted by the Brattleboro Police Department, Adult Protective Services, and the Medicaid Fraud and Residential Abuse Unit of the Vermont Attorney General's Office starting March 27, 2009, according to an affidavit of probable cause written by Virginia Merriam, a detective with the Medicaid Fraud and Residential Abuse Unit.

The affidavit states that Lowery was admitted to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital after a Thompson House employee entered her room and found her slumped over in her wheelchair shortly after 7 a.m.

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Withdrawals were made from Lowery's account between March 23, the she was hospitalized, and April 1, the day she died, the affidavit states.

Merriam wrote that she believes LaClaire changed Lowery's Personal Identification Number from Lowery's bedroom at Thompson House.

"USAA analyst Cindy Padron confirmed that Nita Lowery had her USAA credit card since 1987 and never had a PIN prior to the creation of one at 6:26 a.m., March 23," the affidavit says.

According to Merriam, several Thompson House employees reported that LaClaire prevented two people from entering Lowery's room that morning by taking LaClaire her two cups of morning coffee, which staff always served the elderly woman at 5 and 6:30 a.m.

A laundress attempted to bring Lowery her second cup of coffee around 6:30 a.m.

"(The laundress) said she would routinely bring cups of coffee to Lowery," the affidavit states. "She took the elevator to the second floor... LaClaire met her at the elevator door and asked her who she was bringing coffees to... LaClaire took one of the cups of coffee and said she would bring it to Lowery," the affidavit states.

LaClaire was allegedly captured on security cameras at several banks, attempting to withdraw money from Lowery's account.

According to a press release from the Vermont Attorney General's office, LaClaire was taken into custody on a fugitive from justice charge in Bennington, N.H., April 22.

She stated in court Tuesday that she had already posted $10,000 bail imposed following her arrest; Judge David T. Suntag did not request further bail. LaClaire was released on conditions and will be due back in court at a future date. If found guilty, she could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for each of the 16 counts of exploitation.

Jaime Cone can be reached at jcone@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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