A 91-year-old Union County woman living in squalor had more than $280,000 stolen from her by her home health aide and her two daughters, authorities said Monday.
Denise Letren, 64, of Union Township is charged with second-degree theft, second-degree theft by deception, and third-degree neglect of an elderly person for whom she had a responsibility to care, while 30-year-old Carmen Letren of Newark and 32-year-old Danielle Letren of Lake Hopatcong are each charged with third-degree theft, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo said Monday.
The 91-year-old victim realized she needed an aide following surgery she had done six years ago, authorities said.
Letren was hired to care for the woman around the clock at her home, earning a salary of $2,500 ($130,000 annually), according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Cronin, who is prosecuting the case.
Since 2016 and on thousands of occasions thereafter, Letren used the victim's credit card to pay for expensive meals, buy large amounts of alcohol, cover repairs to her Lexus, airline tickets, furniture, men's clothing and more, Cronin said.
Carmen and Danielle Letren were found to have leveraged similar methods to write themselves checks and use stolen funds on purchases such as a wedding dress, Cronin said.
"Meanwhile, the victim remained almost entirely homebound in a pest-infested, dilapidated apartment during this time – only leaving her residence to travel to church or medical appointments," the prosecutor said.
The family members were charged on Friday pending, first appearances to take place in Union County Superior Court.
“Elder abuse is an insidious crime that takes many forms, and it is far more prevalent than one may think -- the National Council on Aging estimates that one in 10 Americans of age 60 or older have experienced it, and of the estimated 5 million cases that occur in the U.S. each year, as few as 1 of every 14 are actually reported to authorities,” Ruotolo said.
“I commend the excellent investigative work on this case by A.P. Cronin, Det. Luongo, and members of our Special Prosecutions Unit, who are dedicated to serving the interests of justice on behalf of often marginalized victims.”
Anyone who suspects that someone they know may be a victim of elder abuse is urged to contact their local police department or the New Jersey Department of Human Services Adult Protective Services.
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