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Newburyport caregiver found not guilty of swindling elderly client

Daily News of Newburyport - 9/25/2018

Sept. 25--NEWBURYPORT -- A local caregiver accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from her infirm 89-year-old client was found not guilty on all 10 counts after a lengthy trial in Newburyport District Court.

Sylvia Cole, 57, of 8 Hallisey Drive in Newburyport was charged by local police in mid-2017 with larceny over $250 of a person over 60 or disabled, forgery of a bank note (three counts), forgery of a check (three counts), uttering (passing) a false document (two counts) and uttering a false check.

But after quick deliberations, the six-person jury found Cole not guilty of all charges Friday. The verdict capped days of testimony from witnesses on both sides. But when it was time for the jury to decide Cole's guilt or innocence, it took less than an hour to reach a verdict, according to her attorney, Kristin Bonavita.

When asked to comment on the verdict, Bonavita declined, saying her client wants to put the matter behind her.

Cole was accused of stealing about $60,000 from the woman, who lived alone in Newburyport and later suffered a stroke. The two neighbors struck up a friendship in 2016 after chatting several times at Market Basket and eventually Cole was hired to help her.

It was when one of the elderly woman's children took over her finances that he started to suspect Cole of stealing from his mother, according to a Newburyport police report.

The son told police he feared that Cole was taking advantage of his mother's questionable state of mind and coerced her on several occasions to hand over money.

"(The son) believes his mom ... was coerced and not of sound mind when dealing with Sylvia and money. (The son) informed me that he feels his mom was taken advantage of and isolated from everyone in her life for Sylvia's gain," Newburyport police Officer Eric Andrukaitis wrote in his report.

The case was eventually assigned to Newburyport police Inspector Michael Sugrue, who conducted lengthy interviews with the elderly woman, members of her family and Cole. The investigation took several months and led to Sugrue issuing a summons for Cole to appear in court.

In his report, Sugrue wrote that during his investigation, he saw several signs of financial caregiver fraud. Among the signs listed in the report were attempting to isolate the elderly woman, accessing her financial accounts, asking to be given power of attorney, and making purchases or withdrawing money from the woman's bank account.

In the same report, the victim's son said he appreciated Cole's help and didn't claim his mother was being treated poorly.

Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.


(c)2018 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)

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