Three women were arrested Thursday in Volusia County on suspicion of swindling an 88-year-old man out of more than $150,000.
Belgica Rivera, 46, of DeBary, who moved the man into her house and married him, along with Diana Romero, 49, and Dianne Wagner, 62, face felony charges of exploitation of an elderly or disabled adult.
According to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, Rivera married the victim, who suffers from cancer, glaucoma, joint disease, hypertension and memory impairment, after pressuring him into signing a power of attorney that gave her control over his finances while he was lying in a hospital bed in January.
In a span of four months, the balance in the man's bank account decreased from $204,000 to less than $48,000, deputies said.
Deputies said the case first came to light after the victim’s family complained to the Sheriff’s Office that they were unable to make contact with him. The family then discovered that Rivera had befriended the victim and moved him out of his house in Deltona and into Rivera’s DeBary home, deputies said.
The family tried to report the man as missing, but deputies said they located him at a local hospital, where he had been taken for a mental health evaluation after being found wandering the street in a confused state on May 14. When investigators later spoke to a counselor at the hospital, he said that the victim didn’t need to be there any longer, but had refused to leave because he claimed that he was being mistreated at home and his wife was stealing his money, according to the Sheriff's Office.
The man said he tried to escape Rivera’s home several times, but said he was caught, beaten and locked in a room, according to deputies. The man managed to get away about six weeks ago, but he was taken to a hospital for mental health treatment, deputies said.
Sheriff’s investigators pored over extensive financial records showing that beginning in January, Rivera started withdrawing money and writing numerous checks on the victim’s account and coercing the victim into cashing out a large CD. In April, Rivera put down approximately $90,000 on a new house, said deputies, who added that she also bought a $29,000 sport utility vehicle and made out several checks to herself and others -- in some cases forging the victim’s signature.
Wagner, a notary public and friend of Rivera, was charged in the scheme because she received several checks written on the victim’s account and also prepared the power of attorney documents and then notarized it and the marriage license, deputies said.
Romero ended up with the victim’s vehicle after providing a false title application to the state and also used the victim’s money to buy car insurance and life insurance for herself, according to deputies.
Bond was set at $100,000 each for Rivera and Wagner and $25,000 for Romero.