TODAY   |  October 25, 2013

Rossen Reports: Thieves target nursing home elderly

A bookkeeper at one of Mississippi’s top-rated nursing homes plead guilty to stealing more than dollars $100,000 from elderly residents and going on a shopping sprees with the funds. Most states don’t require nursing home administrators to go through background checks. TODAY’s national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

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>>> on rossen reports, stealing from the most vulnerable victims, seniors in nursing homes . the people doing it may surprise you. jeff is here with more. good morning to you.

>> good morning. these thieves are absolutely the worst kind. they know their victims and even take care of their victims all the while robbing them blind. we're talking about the bookkeepers at nursing homes . the office managers who are supposed to be managing patients' money and expenses but instead, they're raiding their accounts. what you need to know so your parents don't get swindled.

>> reporter: phyllis and leo foster wanted the best for his 89-year-old mother. she couldn't take care of herself so they chose this top rated nursing home in mississippi. as her health declined a heartless criminal moved in targeting her.

>> it made me feel sick at my stomach. it didn't hit me that someone would be so low as to steal from a vulnerable adult.

>> reporter: who was stealing from her? this woman, lee martin . the nursing home 's bookkeeper in charge of the patients' trust accounts. martin was secretly raiding their money.

>> in that three month period there were 12 or 15 cash withdrawals. we knew something was wrong.

>> reporter: martin stole more than $100,000 from dozens of residents and went on a shopping spree at jcpenney, the gap and american eagle . in one case buying designer jeans and expensing them to an elderly resident with no legs.

>> it's enormously easy for people to get away with this.

>> reporter: it happened across the country. a usa today investigation discovered more than 100 cases prosecuted since 2010 involving thousands of residents accounts.

>> there are no audit requirements. the people doing the inspections aren't looking close at the books for the trust funds.

>> reporter: there's another loopho loophole. in most states, there's no background checks for administrators. he is the mississippi attorney general.

>> embezzlers are going to do it again.

>> lee martin , convicted of the crime can go to another state and get the same exact job at another nursing home because most states don't require criminal background checks .

>> that's correct. we ought to have mandatory background checks for anybody that works at a nursing facility .

>> reporter: the industry says it supports regulations and this is rare. lee martin 's facility fired her and returned her to police.

>> she should be home. she's on house arrest after all.

>> reporter: we tracked martin down after she pled guilty. she wouldn't talk to us but her dad did.

>> why did she do it? she took advantage of these elderly, sick people that were helpless and the most vulnerable victims.

>> she wasn't brought up like that.

>> you didn't bring her up like that?

>> no.

>> reporter: the nursing home reimbursed the residents and implemented additional management controls to stop the fraud. but phyllis and leo foster say until the government cracks down at all homes, there will be more elderly victims.

>> it would protect every person in the nursing home . people that can't help themselves. people that can't protect themselves.

>> so how do you protect your family? here's the takeaway for you. ask the nursing home for a monthly statement you can check for yourself. that's how the fosters realized their mother was victimized. even better, request the actual receipts for any purchases made for your loved one. that way you can spot anything used shady. good news, victims often get their money back. nursing homes are required to have insurance that covers this type of theft. but the fact it happened in the first place is --

>> why don't they have background checks ?

>> that's what he wants to know and he is hoping stories like this will change