TRENTON, N.J. – A West Orange, N.J., woman who defrauded an elderly victim of almost $100,000 – by taking the victim’s Social Security payments and secretly applying for a reverse mortgage on the victim’s home – admitted her crimes today in Trenton federal court, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Shawn L. Craig, 47, pleaded guilty to two counts of an information: mail fraud and filing false personal federal income tax return for 2011 by not disclosing income including money fraudulently obtained from her victim. Craig entered her guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp.
According to documents in this case and statements made in court:
In November 2010, Craig entered into a general power of attorney with the victim, an elderly woman, to serve as her attorney-in-fact. In that position, Craig was trusted to act in the victim’s best interest and to arrange for the payment of the victim’s living expenses.
After gaining access to the victim’s bank accounts, Craig diverted a portion of the victim’s funds for her own benefit and the benefit of her family, including to pay her automobile insurance; purchase a bar and bar stools; make a tuition payment; and pay for entertainment at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. At the time Craig made those purchases, the funds in the victim’s accounts consisted primarily of the victim’s Social Security benefits.
In December 2010, Craig submitted an application in the victim’s name to a commercial lender for a reverse mortgage on the victim’s residence in East Orange. When the victim refused to sign a specific power of attorney permitting the closing of the reverse mortgage to go forward, Craig forged the victim’s signature on the document and presented it to the title agent at the title agent’s office in Morristown, N.J.
Craig used the money from the reverse mortgage to purchase items at retail establishments including Gucci, Coach, Nike, Apple, Footlocker and various other shoe stores; pay for meals and entertainment at restaurants, liquor stores and other establishments, including the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Amazing LA Tours in Santa Monica, Calif.; fund travel to, and stays at, hotels in New Jersey, California and Florida; and pay personal bills, including automobile insurance, gas and electric, cell phone and cable bills.
In June 2011, Craig was notified that the general power of attorney had been revoked, so she transferred the victim’s funds to a new bank account. In all, Craig misused approximately $99,000 of the victim’s funds.
Craig also admitted that she caused a tax preparer to prepare and electronically file with the IRS a false and fraudulent personal income tax return for tax year 2011, by not disclosing as income the funds that she had fraudulently obtained from the victim.
The mail fraud charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The tax charge carries a maximum potential penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, the plea agreement requires Craig to make restitution to the victim. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2014.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford; IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen; and Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Ryan.