A Middletown woman faces felony theft charges after pretending to be a health care provider and stealing $150,000 from 58-year-old woman suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Rhonda Smith, 39, of Middletown, was arrested Feb. 4 on felony theft charges and will be in court for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, according to Butler County court records. Smith is accused of accessing the checking and savings accounts of Melissa Cornett, 58, of Middletown, and then using her money to go on spending sprees for more than a year.
“She went to casinos, went on vacations, purchased absolutely everything,” said Middletown police Detective Steve Winters. “It’s disgusting.”
Smith lived next door to Cornett in the 800 block of Elwood Street and befriended her in January 2013, according to police. After gaining Cornett’s trust, Smith used the woman’s debit card to withdraw money from ATMs, Winters said. Smith bought Kings Island tickets for her family, thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and a trailer for camping, he said.
“She called me ‘mom’ and I trusted her,” said Cornett, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. “She cooked for me; it just feels like I’ve been stabbed. I’m hurt, I’m angry. She keeps saying she didn’t do it… I want her to serve time.”
Police arrested Smith after receiving a tip from an anonymous caller concerned about Cornett’s dwindling bank accounts. Cornett had no idea that Smith was stealing from her, according to police.
Smith was arraigned Feb. 5, and police said at least three other people would be charged in connection with the scam.
“It’s unbelievable. Five people were living off this victim,” Winters said. “The suspect has a boyfriend and a husband. The husband went over to the victim’s house and was trying to get money from her to pay the bond for his wife.”
Smith claimed to be a health care provider, but police said she is not licensed and does not have any formal training in the field. After she was arrested, Smith told officers: “Yeah, maybe I went through about $25,000 that I shouldn’t have.”
Cornett paid Smith $250 a week to help clean her house, drive Cornett’s mentally disabled son, go to grocery stores, and help pay her bills.
Police said Cornett only has a few hundred dollars left in the bank now. Cornett told the Journal-News she’s worried about losing her home.
“I hope not because this is in the family; I grew up here,” said Cornett. “I should’ve saw it; I didn’t.”
Cornett says this is the second time someone who claimed to be her friend scammed her out of money.
“I’m not going to trust anybody,” said Cornett.
Scams against senior citizens are more common than many realize. Police say they receive a call about a scam involving seniors about once a week.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” own their home, and have excellent credit — all of which make them attractive to con artists. Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed, according to FBI experts.
“Even though here in Butler County we do everything we can to protect our elderly, there’s still people out there that seize the opportunity to take advantage of them. It’s just unfortunate,” said Winters.
He advises senior citizens to contact a bonded and insured home health care agency to help protect them against scams. In the meantime, Cornett still needs a lot of help. Winters has been doing his part.
“I’m making sure they have food, have their medication and getting other agencies involved to assist her and her son,” said Winters.
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