Two Charlotte Men Charged With Orchestrating High-End Auto Thefts From South Carolina Businesses Appear In Court
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Acting U.S. Attorney William T. Stetzer announced that a Charlotte woman and one of her two co-conspirators were sentenced to prison today for their involvement in a $300,000 embezzlement scheme perpetrated on an elderly, dementia-afflicted victim.
Acting U.S. Attorney Stetzer is joined in making today’s announcement by Robert R. Wells, Special Agent in Charge for the FBI in North Carolina, Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the of the Atlanta Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), which oversees Charlotte, and Chief Joseph Hatley of the Mint Hill Police Department.
U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. sentenced Donna Graves, 58, to 97 months in prison and two years of supervised release. On October 2, 2020, a federal jury convicted Graves of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. Grave’s co-conspirator, Gerald Maxwell Harrison, 54, of Mint Hill, N.C., was ordered to serve three years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Harrison pleaded guilty in May 2020, to wire fraud conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen property, and money laundering conspiracy. In addition to the prison terms imposed, Judge Cogburn also ordered Graves and Harrison to pay $298,407.85 as restitution, jointly and severally.
A third co-conspirator, Elizabeth Robin Williams, previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen property, and money laundering conspiracy and is currently awaiting sentencing.
According to filed court documents, evidence presented at Graves’ trial and witness testimony, including testimony provided by Harrison, from January 2015 through September 2019, Graves, who was the ringleader of the criminal conspiracy, conspired with Williams and Harrison to engage in a scheme to defraud a victim identified in court documents as “K.T.” The victim was an elderly widow who lived alone and suffered from dementia and other physical and mental challenges. During the relevant time period, Graves and her co-conspirators exploited K.T.’s vulnerabilities and defrauded the victim through a web of forged documents, lies, and deceptions.
According to evidence presented at Graves’ trial, beginning in 2014, Graves and Williams provided housekeeping services for the victim through a business owned and operated by Graves. Over the course of the scheme, the co-conspirators isolated the victim from her friends and family, induced the victim to give them power and control over her personal affairs, and fabricated a power of attorney purporting to give Graves and Williams control over the victim’s financial affairs. Once they gained access and control, Graves, Williams, and Harrison moved the victim out of her residence in Indian Land, South Carolina, first to an apartment in Charlotte, and later to a rental home in Mint Hill, refusing to let the victim’s friends and family know where she was living.
According to court records and trial testimony, Graves, Williams, and Harrison engaged in numerous illegal and unauthorized financial transactions that substantially depleted the victim’s money and property. Specifically, the co-conspirators emptied the victim’s bank accounts and used the money to pay for personal expenses, and “maxed out” at least one credit card in the victim’s name. The co-conspirators also fraudulently transferred or attempted to transfer the victim’s Indian Land residence to themselves by creating a quit claim deed purporting to gift the residence to Harrison; they then attempted to sell the residence and intended to split the proceeds amongst each other. They also pawned the victim’s jewelry, and they stole the victim’s federal benefits. Additionally, Williams unlawfully used the victim’s money to set up other businesses in her name, including a business selling handbags online and a business selling weight loss-related services. As a result of the fraudulent scheme, the co-conspirators defrauded the victim of approximately $300,000.
According to court documents and information presented at today’s sentencing hearing, over the course of the scheme, Graves and her co-conspirators failed to provide the victim with proper medical care, which greatly diminished the victim’s health. Furthermore, once the victim’s money was depleted, the co-conspirators abandoned the victim, who was later moved to a nursing home in New York, where she passed away in large part due to the mental and physical deterioration she had suffered in the hands of Graves and her co-conspirators.
In announcing Graves’s sentence, Judge Cogburn said the defendants knew that the victim was vulnerable and that this was a shameful manipulation of a person. Judge Cogburn also said the defendant’s made “the last part of her (the victim’s) life the worst part of her life.”
Graves will be ordered to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving her sentence upon designation of a federal facility. Harrison is currently in custody. A sentencing date for Williams has not been set. Williams faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the wire fraud conspiracy charge carries. The statutory maximum penalty for the money laundering conspiracy charge is 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, and the interstate transportation of stolen property charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
In making today’s announcement, Acting U.S. Attorney Stetzer commended the Mint Hill Police Department, the FBI, and USPIS for their investigation of this case.
Assistant United States Attorneys Kenneth M. Smith and Caryn D. Finley, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, are prosecuting the case.
June 15TH Is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
June 15, 2021, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). First launched in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations, the purpose of WEAAD is to raise awareness about abuse and neglect toward the elderly and to prevent elder exploitation.
According to the National Council on Aging, elder abuse is a silent problem that robs seniors of their dignity, security, and – in some cases – it costs them their lives. “Up to five million older Americans are abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion.”
Combating elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at older adults is a key priority of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina. Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. Elder abuse is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, affecting at least 10% of older Americans every year.
Together with our law enforcement partners, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to combatting all forms of elder abuse and financial exploitation through enforcement actions, training and resources, victim services and public awareness. Visit the Justice Department’s Elder Justice Initiative to learn more about available resources, including how to report elder abuse and financial exploitation.