|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a prominent Atlantic County attorney who specializes in elder law and the owner of an in-home senior care company were arrested on charges they conspired to prey on elderly clients and steal their life savings. The two women allegedly stole over $2 million from at least 10 victims. The company owner’s sister and a former employee also are charged in the investigation by the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice.
The following two women were arrested yesterday in the ongoing investigation. They are charged by complaint with first-degree money laundering, second-degree conspiracy and second-degree theft by deception for allegedly stealing from the victims, who lived in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
- Barbara Lieberman, 62, of Northfield, the attorney, was arrested at her home on Northwood Court. Search warrants were executed there and at her law office on New Road in Northfield. She was lodged in jail with bail set at $300,000. The state froze approximately $5 million in assets Lieberman holds in various accounts, which it will seek to use for restitution.
- Jan Van Holt, 57, of Linwood, the owner of “A Better Choice,” a company that purportedly offered seniors “custom designed life care and legal financial planning,” was arrested at her home on West Vernon Avenue. She also was lodged in jail with bail set at $300,000.
Investigators previously filed charges of second-degree theft by deception against Van Holt’s sister, Sondra Steen, 58, of Linwood, who lives with her and helped her operate “A Better Choice,” and Susan Hamlett, 55, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked for them as an aid for elderly clients.
The defendants allegedly targeted elderly clients with substantial assets who typically did not have any immediate family, offering them non-medical care and assistance, including financial and legal services. The defendants allegedly took control of the finances of their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one on false pretenses. The defendants then added their names to the victims’ bank accounts or transferred the victims’ funds into new accounts they controlled. Thereafter, the defendants allegedly siphoned away the money to pay their own expenses, including, for Van Holt, two Mercedes cars, a Florida condo, pool supplies and veterinary bills for her pets. Lieberman allegedly used stolen funds to pay off six-figure credit card bills. In one case, the defendants allegedly put a reverse mortgage for $195,000 on a 94-year-old woman’s home. That victim died in a nursing home because she could not afford to live in her home after her assets allegedly were stolen. Lieberman and Van Holt also executed the wills of some of the victims and allegedly continued to steal from their estates after they died.
“These women allegedly preyed ruthlessly on elderly clients, most of whom were facing the end of life without family and with only their savings to ensure they would be cared for properly,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We’re supposed to honor our elders, but these women heartlessly exploited them, allegedly stripping them of their life savings and their ability to live out their final days in comfort, peace and dignity. This is an ongoing investigation, and we urge any individuals who suspect that they or their loved ones may have had their assets stolen by these defendants to notify us.”
Acting Attorney General Hoffman noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has a toll-free tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report financial fraud and other crimes confidentially.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman made the announcement with Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice, Major Raymond Guidetti, Commander of the Intelligence Section of the New Jersey State Police, and Director David Rebuck of the Division of Gaming Enforcement. Director Rebuck dedicated resources from his division to conduct the investigation, including personnel assigned to the Division of Gaming Enforcement from the State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice.
“We allege that these defendants were wolves in sheep’s clothing, entering the lives of their vulnerable victims as caregivers, only to shamelessly steal all they owned,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “It is particularly egregious that Lieberman, a lawyer, and Van Holt, a former social worker, both of whom had careers ostensibly dedicated to helping the elderly, instead would choose to harm them.”
“These women have committed outrageous breaches of trust by preying on elderly victims, who are so often easy targets of financial crimes,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The success of this investigation ensures that these individuals will no longer be able to victimize senior citizens of New Jersey.”
The lead detective is Detective Richard Wheeler of the New Jersey State Police Financial Crimes Unit. Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher of the Casino Prosecutions Unit is the lead prosecutor on the case, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau, and Deputy Attorney General Paul Salvatoriello, Acting Deputy Bureau Chief. Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian, which initially referred the case to the State Police. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller is handling the state’s forfeiture action.
The thefts allegedly began at least as early as 2006 and continued through 2013. Van Holt previously worked for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services as a case worker. After she left that job in 2006, she started her own business, A Better Choice, offering in-home services to senior citizens. Those who worked for the company, including Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett, performed a variety of services for clients, including household chores, errands, driving clients to appointments, scheduling, budgeting, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and other tasks. They did not provide healthcare services. Van Holt also created a company called “Elder Hospice,” but it was nothing more than a bank account.
Van Holt allegedly referred clients to Lieberman, and vice versa. Lieberman is a leading specialist in elder law in Atlantic County who gives seminars to senior citizens on end of life affairs, wills and living wills. Lieberman allegedly would prepare powers of attorney and draft wills for the victims. In some cases, she named herself as having the power of attorney, while other times she named the other defendants. Whoever had the power of attorney allegedly would write checks or make electronic transfers to the defendants from the victim’s account or a new joint account with the victim to which the victim’s assets were transferred. Other checks and transfers allegedly were used to pay the defendants’ bills. A portion of the money, however, was used to fund the victim’s continued expenses, allegedly to keep the victim unaware of the thefts. It is alleged that, in some cases, money from one victim would be transferred to another victim to pay expenses and cover up the thefts. If the victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account controlled by the defendants.
The defendants would sometimes use the powers of attorney to transfer the victim’s assets into Lieberman’s Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA). Lawyers are required to maintain IOLTA accounts to safeguard funds entrusted to them by or on behalf of clients. However, Lieberman allegedly would write checks from her IOLTA account to herself, Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett.
These are examples of the crimes allegedly committed against elderly victims:
- The 94-year-old victim mentioned above first met Van Holt when Van Holt was a county case worker. At the time that the victim hired Van Holt, the victim was healthy enough and had sufficient assets to continue to live in her home in Ventnor. However, the defendants allegedly put the reverse mortgage on her home for $195,000 without her knowledge and stole $112,000 from her. The victim ultimately was unable to pay for assistance at home and her other expenses. She was forced to move into a nursing home in Cape May Court House, where she died. In applying for the reverse mortgage, Steen allegedly falsely claimed that she was the victim’s niece.
- The defendants allegedly stole $320,000 from a woman in her nineties who met Lieberman while living at the Jeffries Tower in Atlantic City, where Lieberman offered a legal seminar for seniors. The woman hired Van Holt, who was named power of attorney for her and executrix of her will. The victim had a son and a daughter, but Lieberman allegedly refused to discuss the victim’s affairs with them, citing attorney-client privilege. The daughter, who visited her mother frequently, said she was not told when her mother was moved first to a nursing home in Galloway Township and later to the Eastern Pines Convalescent Center in Atlantic City, where she died in 2010. The defendants allegedly stole from the victim’s estate after she died.
Hamlett stopped working for Van Holt after a disagreement. At this point in the investigation, she is linked only to the alleged thefts involving those two victims. Hamlett, Van Holt and Steen all were previously charged with second-degree theft by deception in connection with the first victim above. Steen and Hamlett are free on bail.
- Lieberman allegedly stole more than $600,000 from a Margate woman who was in her nineties, using more than $300,000 to pay her personal credit card bills. She also allegedly wrote large checks from the victim’s account to other members of her immediate family. Lieberman allegedly stole half of the money before the woman died, writing checks and making electronic transfers from a new account that she opened in both the victim’s name and her name, as power of attorney. The victim was moved to Eastern Pines Convalescent Center in Atlantic City, where she died at age 95. Lieberman drafted the victim’s will and had herself named executrix, allegedly manipulating the will to enable her to continue to steal from the victim’s estate. Lieberman drafted the will to bequeath all assets other than the victim’s home to a named friend of the victim. In reality, that friend had died 11 months before the will was signed.
The defendants also allegedly stole more than $500,000 from an Atlantic City woman who died at 91; $487,000 from a Margate couple, who died at 81 and 85; $109,000 from a Northfield woman who died at 92; $72,000 from a Northfield woman who died at 85; nearly $26,000 from an Egg Harbor Township woman who died at 90; and $20,000 from a Cape May Court House woman who is 88. In each case, Lieberman, Van Holt and Steen allegedly continued to provide services to the victim while stealing the victim’s money. They allegedly hid their thefts from the victims while waiting for them to die.
First-degree money laundering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, including a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed, and a fine of up to $500,000. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because the charges are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a grand jury for potential indictment.