A recent case in Ann Arbor has once again highlighted the difference between embezzlement in the more traditional sense—unlawfully taking money from one’s employer—and financial abuse of vulnerable persons. Embezzlement is defined as the taking of money to which a person has legal access but not ownership rights. And when the victims are vulnerable adults, it can change the scope of the case significantly.
54-year-old Christi Chilson has been charged with embezzlement of at least $1,000 to less than $20,000 from a vulnerable adult. Court records show that Chilson, a visiting nurse, gained access to the debit card of an elderly woman in her care. She allegedly spent thousands of dollars to which she was not entitled.
Police say that the thefts began with jewelry that Chilson took from the home of a 79-year-old woman she was caring for. However, when the person who usually ran errands for the elderly woman was no longer able to do so, Chilson took over that duty as well. She allegedly told the woman that the cash she had provided was insufficient to cover what was needed. The woman gave Chilson her debit card.
Later, after she returned, Chilson told the woman that she had left the debit card in her car and would return it later. The next time they were together, a medical emergency required that Chilson take the woman to the hospital and admit her. But during the following week, while the woman was hospitalized, Chilson allegedly withdrew thousands of dollars from ATMs, which she apparently spent at Casinos.
Michigan law is very specific about what constitutes embezzlement from a vulnerable adult. Specifically, the law states that “A person shall not through fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, coercion, or unjust enrichment obtain or use or attempt to obtain or use a vulnerable adult’s money or property to directly or indirectly benefit that person knowing or having reason to know the vulnerable adult is a vulnerable adult.”
State law defines a vulnerable adult as “An individual age 18 or over who, because of age, developmental disability, mental illness, or physical disability, requires supervision or personal care, or lacks the personal and social skills required to live independently.” So by law, any elderly person who is unable to fully and independently care for themselves is considered a vulnerable adult.
Due to the quantity of money taken in this case, Chilson is facing felony charges. Had she stolen less money, she would likely have faced only misdemeanor charges. As it stands, if convicted, Chilson is facing up to five years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.00 or 3 times the value of the money, whichever is greater.
While embezzlement cases can be awful for everyone involved, when the victim is considered to be a vulnerable adult, it can significantly change how the case plays out. Juries tend to look less kindly on those who appear to prey on the elderly and at risk. A skilled and professional defense is the best way to combat these kinds of charges.