Jack Adler was an 89-year-old widower living an active life in Century Village in Deerfield Beach when he met a woman at Costco who became his “girlfriend.”
Several times a week, Fatima Williams, then in her early 40s, would pick Adler up for lunch dates that included shopping trips and stops at banks and ATMs.
Over 11 weeks in late 2010 and 2011, the withdrawals piled up — to $129,600, according to an investigation by Broward Sheriff’s Detective John Calabro. Williams was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and exploiting an elderly person.
Five years later, Williams, now 50, is once more in a Broward County jail, accused of grand theft and elderly exploitation against another 89-year-old widower, this time a man from Boca Raton.
Adler’s experience is not uncommon in South Florida. From April 2015 to March 2016, financial exploitation accounted for 773 cases of 3,862 elder abuse investigations in Broward County, according to the Florida Department of Children and families.
Miami-Dade County had 682 such cases out of 4,529 elder abuse investigations last year.
In Palm Beach County, 3,041 Adult Protective Services cases were investigated for that time period, and 588 involved financial exploitation.
But investigators and lawyers say elders can be protected when loved ones are involved in their lives.
Jack Adler’s son, Alan, a dentist in Michigan, said his father retired after a career with a natural gas company and was financially savvy. But he “wasn’t consciously aware of how crazy it was, what they were doing,” he said.
Both Adler and the Boca Raton man had been diagnosed with age-related cognitive disabilities, according to court records and people familiar with their cases.
Adler’s son gave permission to publish details about his father’s health. The Sun Sentinel is not identifying the man from Boca Raton, who has no known relatives to speak for him. He’s 92 and living in an assisted living facility in Broward County.
Alan Adler said of his father’s decline: “I didn’t see it coming. Five years earlier, he was trading stocks online with his laptop and actively trading with two brokerage accounts and giving my friends investment advice that they would take.”
Changes in his father — who enjoyed playing tennis, socializing with younger people at Century Village and chauffeuring older friends to doctor appointments — were not obvious, the son said.
“He didn’t show typical signs of dementia like forgetting or not knowing people or current affairs,” Alan Adler said. “His judgment was what suffered from the disease.”
After meeting Williams, ATM withdrawals of up to $800 at a time and checks of up to $60,000 were being written from Adler’s accounts. This went on until he mentioned to his son that he’d stopped driving, and a girlfriend whose full name he could not remember was taking him around.
That offhand comment prompted the family to look at the older man’s finances.
Alan Adler listened during a call as his father asked Williams whether she had taken money from his bank account. Williams replied, ‘Why, did the bank call you?’ and ‘Did your family ask you?’ a court document states.
When Jack Adler told Williams his family did ask about the transactions and were with him, she said, ‘Of course I did. You told me I could take out money any time I wanted. Don’t you remember?’ according to the document.
Alarmed about the unusual spending, Alan Adler contacted authorities.
The elder Adler’s brief friendship ended with the arrest of Williams, who in 2011 pleaded no contest to elderly exploitation and was sentenced to two years’ probation. Records list addresses for her in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.
Williams paid $60,000 back to Adler, now 94, and her probation period was reduced to one year. Adler’s son moved him back to Michigan to live with the family.
After her arrest this month, Williams is in a Broward County jail, awaiting a hearing to have her $600,000 bond reduced. She also will have to prove that any money or other assets used for bond come from legitimate sources.
“I have reviewed the arrest warrant in this matter,” Williams’ lawyer, Michael Mirer of Miami, said in an email. “When the evidence is brought to light, it will be clear that my client did not exploit anyone and I am confident Ms. Williams will be exonerated.”
Guardian angels for a widower
Two women — a bank manager and an administrator at the Boca Raton man’s residence — called the Florida Department of Children and Families abuse hotline when Williams came into the Boca Raton man’s life.
The assisted living facility’s former administrator reported to investigators in 2013 that Williams wanted to control who visited him, wanted to be present for those meetings and did not want dementia noted in his file.
The next year, an Iberia Bank branch manager was concerned that Williams wanted her name added to the man’s account. The banker knew her customer well, as he was in the branch often in the years after his wife died in 2011.
The man was known to balance his checkbook to the penny, but the banker had noticed a decline in his mental capacity, according to an arrest affidavit.
Though the man signed a durable power of attorney that appointed Williams to that role, she “knew or should have known [he] lacked the capacity to consent” and obtained or used funds, assets or property … and “did breach her fiduciary duty,” Broward Sheriff’s Detective Nora Schwartz wrote in her report.
Once frugal, now free-spending
Williams obtained cash and goods from the man’s bank and credit accounts from January 2013 until June 2014, worth $385,933, police say.
The man spent $52,828 on a BMW 528i sedan. The title was transferred to Williams with a gift letter to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, a purchase that also concerned his banker. When she asked to see the pricey new wheels, he told her he’d given the car to his “lady friend.”
The man’s signature on the gift letter that was sent to motor vehicles was “completely different” compared with his handwriting on previous documents filed with the state, Schwartz wrote in her report.
When Williams became aware of the detective’s investigation, she sold the BMW and bought a Hyundai, Schwartz said.