POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A local history teacher accessed her grandmother’s bank account and stole more than $66,000, leaving the victim penniless before her death, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies said 40-year-old Laura Pollard Ramos, who teaches at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy, was given power of attorney over her grandmother in 2013 due to her declining health. There was also a second signer on the victim’s account, who died in September 2018.
Prior to the power of attorney being granted, the 83-year-old victim spent about $550 per month on housing-related bills and another $200 to $400 in cash on incidentals. Records show Ramos would write checks from the victim’s account and withdraw money from the ATM as needed.
The victim had sold her home in early 2018 and received $80,000 deposited into her account. Deputies said the victim had a second signer on the account and prior to that woman’s death the expenses, deposits and withdraws were consistent and the balance in the account stayed right around $71,000.
Starting in November 2018, more than a month after the second signer’s death, out of the ordinary transactions began popping up for PayPal, Epcot, restaurants and the like, according to authorities.
Records show the account went from direct payments for three to six different services per month to 50 unique transactions per month starting in November 2018.
Then in October 2020, the victim received a PayPal credit card in the mail with her name on it, despite never having applied for one, the report said. She alerted other family members about it without Ramos’ knowledge and they contacted authorities after they discovered the victim’s bank account had been emptied and now had a negative balance, records show.
The family deposited money into the victim’s account to keep her from going bankrupt.
Deputies said the account went from $66,836.90 in November 2018 to -$193 in November 2019. The victim died suddenly in February.
An arrest report details transactions that were made at Planet Fitness for Ramos’ gym membership, payments for her Nissan, purchases at liquor stores despite the fact that the victim didn’t drink, Epcot, Hot Topic, Amazon and $3,776 at bars and lounges.
Deputies said more than $18,000 was withdrawn from ATMs.
In additional to the PayPal credit card, Ramos is also accused of opening two other cards in her grandmother’s name, maxing them out quickly and never making any payments on them.
Ramos was arrested Friday afternoon at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy, where she teaches history to sixth and seventh grade students.
“This suspect is the lowest of the low - betraying the trust of her own grandmother, taking advantage of her during a great time of need by completely wiping out her life savings. She’s despicable. And she’s a teacher on top of it – someone who is entrusted with shaping and molding young, impressionable students. What an awful role model she is,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Ramos is facing charges of grand theft of a person over 65 years of age, scheming to defraud over $50,000, fraudulent use of a credit card and criminal use of personal ID.
Polk County Public Schools said Ramos remains an active employee and more information will need to be gathered before a decision is made on possible disciplinary action.
She was hired as a substitute teacher in 2008 and has been at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy since August 2010. During her tenure, she was given one verbal warning for absenteeism in 2018.
A message was sent to members of the campus community to notify them about the arrest:
This message is to inform you that Laura Ramos, a U.S. history teacher at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy, was arrested today on charges of stealing money from her grandmother.
We wanted to make you aware of this situation, as it will likely receive coverage on local news reports.
Laura Ramos is not accused of any criminal action on campus, and these allegations are totally unrelated to her work and duties at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy.
However, we remain shocked by this news and find these serious charges alarming. We expect all staff members to be held to the highest standard and treat others with respect and compassion.
Polk County Public Schools is reviewing this matter and will gather more information from law enforcement before deciding whether disciplinary action should be taken.
We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement in their investigation. Thank you.