Ariel’s wealthy aunt died. When his mom went to open her safe deposit box, which was supposed to hold $300k in bonds and jewels, it was empty. The bank clerk said that it had been emptied that morning, by the aunt…
Further investigation found that it was actually a woman using his Aunt’s identity who cleaned out the box. This woman had “befriended” the aunt in the months before her death.
The tale inside reads like it fell from the pages of a pulp detective novel…
Okay, where do I begin?? Let me start with a brief synopsis of the circumstances surrounding the reason for this email.
My aunt recently passed away after battling breast cancer for several years. My aunt lived in Manhattan in a tiny apartment for many years up until her death. She was eccentric to put it lightly and probably suffered from some mental disorder that was probably never diagnosed. She also had lots of money both in the form of cash, bank accounts and stocks. During the last 8-9 months of her life, a woman came into her life and befriended my aunt. This woman is married with a child and is the CEO of a fledgling water company in NY. Somehow, during the final month of my aunt’s life (while she could no longer walk and was on heavy morphine) this woman managed to get control of many of my aunt’s assets. Bank accounts that were set aside for friends and family were suddenly transferred into this persons name. She cleaned out several safety deposit boxes while my aunt was still alive, and then cleaned out at least one after my aunt died. Oh, the original copy of my aunts will mysteriously disappeared.
This leads me to the point of this email. My aunt had at least one safety deposit box/account with Bank of America which contained $75,000 in cash + jewelry and other paperwork. The day after my aunt died, my mother arrived in New York. The first thing that she did was go to the funeral home to see her sister. After going to the funeral home she went to the Bank of America in midtown Manhattan to begin the process of closing out accounts and safety deposit boxes. Upon arriving at the Bank of America she was asked to sign into a register before she was allowed to access my aunts safety deposit box. To her shock, someone had already accessed the safety deposit box that morning. Can you guess who it was? Yes! This woman who had known my aunt for less than a year had gone into Bank of America and signed her name and noted POA (power of attorney) on the register. When my mother checked the safety deposit box, all of the cash was gone. Several pieces of jewelry were also missing, however the papers (of no financial value) were still there.
When my mother went back to the bank agent and asked who had accessed the box earlier that morning she was even more shocked by what she was told.
According to the bank agent, my aunt had been the one who came and accessed the box! My aunt who had died the night before in her apartment had walked into Bank of America and cleaned out her safety deposit box?? My mother told the agent that her sister had died the night before and that there was no way that she could have been at the bank. But, the agent insisted that the woman who came into the bank was my aunt, in fact she showed ID. My mom demanded to speak the bank manager. When she asked the Bank manager to call the police, he/she refused and put away the safety deposit register. Apparently he then called his boss and they came back and told my mother that they could no longer talk to her about this and that if she wanted access to anything, she would have to subpoena them.
Of course there was video tape of this woman entering the bank and going to the safety deposit box. However, the NYPD claims that the bank will likely never give up the video tape (if it still exists). The bank will no longer speak to my mother and clearly is trying to cover it’s a$$. It would seem like Bank of America screwed up big time by letting someone show false ID into a safety deposit box and steal $75,000 in cash + jewelry. Let’s not forget that this woman had no legal right to access this account after my aunt died. The law states that power of attorney ends when the person dies. Since my aunt died the night before, this woman had no legal power, yet she still wrote POA on the register.
So what do we do here? Do we cause a huge stink? The NYPD said good luck in trying to get Bank of America to admit fault. In fact, good luck trying to sue them in court. This woman who committed forgery, identity theft, and grand theft larceny is sitting pretty in her apartment in Manhattan counting the nearly $300,000 in cash and jewelry that she stole from my aunt. Not only was my aunt dying, but she was on morphine and many other drugs that allowed this woman to manipulate and take advantage of her. Doesn’t Bank of America have a duty to it’s customers (alive and deceased) to protect their assets and provide adequate security measures so that the theft of $75,000 doesn’t happen? If a person walked into bank of America and stole $75,000, don’t you think the bank would be pressing charges?
Bank of America sucks! It let a woman steal my aunts money the day after my aunt died of breast cancer!
What should I do? Would should the family do?
Ariel, condolences for your loss. Deaths are never easy, and for this one to be surrounded by this crime must be very painful.
That said, I have two questions before posting this story.
How did you family come to know about this woman who befriended your mother?
Were any of your family around when you aunt died? If not, why not?
Thank you for the comments. My aunt was eccentric to say the least. Her passing was not a surprise in itself except for the fact that my mother was going to visit her just as she passed away.
To answer your questions…
My mother actually met this woman several months ago while she was in New York visiting with my aunt. As things have unravelled we have spoken to many of my Aunt’s friends who all have talked about this woman who came into her life late in the game. This woman is the daughter of an attorney (prominent) that my aunt dated years ago. According to my aunt, she didn’t know this woman more than casually during that period.
None of the family was with my aunt when she passed away. There were at least two people in her apartment when she passed away in addition to the paramedics and police. One was one of the caretakers (whom I believe called 911) and the other was this woman who eventually stole much of my aunt’s money. This woman grabbed (according to witnesses) my aunts camcorder (and stole it) and videotaped my aunt in her soiled underwear as the paramedics were administering CPR. One of the police officers at the scene actually had to forcibly tell this woman to stop recording the death. My mother was apparently on the phone with one of the two women as this was going on screaming that there was a DNR for my aunt. To date, the woman who stole the money and took advantage of my aunt will not return the money, tape, camera or jewelry. My mother arrived in New York the day after my aunt passed away which is also the same day that this woman went and cleared out the safety deposit box a Bank of America.
I hope this is useful. This could be a story about elder abuse among other things, but I (and my family) are extremely angry with Bank of America for letting this woman who had no legal right, to access my aunt’s safety deposit box and steal $75,000 in cash and jewelry.
We spoke with Ariel by phone and yes, the family already took the case to the police.
However, the detective ruled that it was a civil affair, not a criminal.
We also found that the highest ranking person they spoke with was the branch manager. We advised busting BoA corporate’s door down with the story. They might have a very different story than a local manager covering his ass.
Lastly, if the aunt had renter’s insurance, it may cover the safe deposit box, even in this bizarre circumstance. We recommend checking in with the insurance company.
As an odd coda, the family knows who the conwoman is. She hasn’t denied taking any of the money, and has in fact written the family a letter saying that she “deserved” it.
Any other advice for the beleagured family? — BEN POPKEN
UPDATE: Ariel writes
Holy cow! I had no idea it would garner such a quick set of responses from your readers. It is great that people have responded with supportive comments regarding our situation. I believe that my mother (administrator of the estate) is in the process of assessing the cost to benefit ration of suing the thief. We have been told that it could cost from $30,000-$70,000 to file suit without any sort of guarantee that we will win or be able to collect if we do win.
Just to clarify, the NYPD did say that what this woman did was criminal, but due to the amount of time that had lapsed between the crime and when my mother was actually sitting in the NYPD portable would make it nearly impossible to get any evidence from BofA and therefore attempt to prosecute the thief. Perhaps it was the D.A.’s call?