A CARER has been found guilty of fraud after she raided the bank accounts of two of her elderly patients, using their cash cards to withdraw almost £46,000.
And today the niece of one of the victims told how the family discovered the fraud as her aunt lay on her deathbed but to avoid upsetting her delayed reporting it to police and put up with the carer continuing to be involved in looking after her.
At the end of a ten-day trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Margo Alongi, 54, of Clayknowes Drive, Musselburgh, was found guilty by a jury of defrauding 78-year-old Elizabeth Lynch, known as Betty, of £43,600 and 68-year-old Roy Scott of £2350 between May 2010 and January 2014.
Sentence was deferred until November 25 for reports. Sheriff Fiona Tait allowed bail for Alongi, a first offender.
The court heard how investigations began after Ms Lynch died and her niece Lynn Harrison, who was executor of her will, told police £2900 had been withdrawn from Ms Lynch’s bank account in the previous three months.
Today, Ms Harrison said Alongi had been appointed to care for Ms Lynch, who had cerebral palsy and bone cancer, in May 2010.
“Margo befriended my aunt and would go and see her outwith her caring duties, take her to the bingo and so on,” said Ms Harrison. “My aunt grew to care for and trust Margo implicitly. In my opinion, this was Margo’s grooming period.
“In February 2011, Margo convinced my Aunt to get a cashline card. She never had one previously as she wouldn’t have been able to punch the PIN number into the key pad due to her cerebral palsy.
“Margo said she would collect her cash and get her shopping. Margo also took over dealing with my aunt’s finances and all mail, including bank statements.
“My aunt told the family she was happy with this arrangement as she completely trusted Margo – Margo even told her she loved her. As this woman was employed in a position of care, we assumed all was ok and had to respect my aunt’s wishes.”
But unknown to anyone, the woman who was meant to be caring for Ms Lynch was in fact helping herself to her money.
“From the minute Margo got her hands on my aunt’s card, she made constant £300 cash withdrawals, she did my aunt’s shopping and would quite often put two transactions through on the one day, one for a small amount – my aunt’s shopping – and the other for a large amount, her own.
“She even withdrew £300 from my aunt’s account when my aunt was lying on her death bed. This was the withdrawal that sickened me to the core.”
Ms Harrison said she was thankful that her aunt died not knowing that the woman she had trusted had stolen thousands of pounds from her.
She said a week before her aunt died, a bank statement arrived for her aunt and her mother, Jessie Wallace, 86 – Betty’s sister – left it for Ms Harrison.
“I opened it and within seconds knew Margo had been stealing from my aunt.
“On that last bank statement alone, £2900 had been withdrawn from my aunt’s account and there were numerous high Tesco shopping transactions.
“My aunt, due to her cancer was hardly eating over the last year of her life and died less than five stones in weight. She didn’t go out much, so this expenditure was not of my aunt’s doing.
“I told my mum and brother and my mum was adamant nothing was to be said and no police involvement until after my aunt passed away. She would not allow my aunt to die knowing what that evil woman had done.
“As a family, we had to endure Margo in my aunt’s house on the week leading up to my aunt’s death, whilst knowing what she had done. It was horrific.”
Ms Harrison said when her aunt passed away on January 28, 2014, her mother wanted nothing to be said until after the funeral, as a mark of respect to Ms Lynch.
Ms Harrison said she studied all her aunt’s bank statements for the last seven years and discovered the frequent withdrawals of £300.
“My aunt’s funeral was on February 4, 2014, and I spent three hours in the police station after the funeral reporting the crime.”
It was then discovered that Alongi had also stolen from another client, Roy Scott.
Ms Harrison said: “That meant the police were now investigating two crimes. Mr Scott gave a statement to the police but sadly died before the trial took place.”
At the trial, Detective Constable John Fortune, who carried out the investigation after the report by Ms Harrison, said when they questioned Mr Scott he told them he had asked his carers to get him £20-£30 for food and cigarettes and no more than that.
Some had refused, saying they did not want any access to his money.
Carers were required to produce receipts for any purchases for Mr Scott, have him sign for it and lodge it with their employers.
Mr Scott told the police that Alongi was the only carer he had given his bank card to.
DC Fortune told the court that Alongi had produced a personal diary which, she said, recorded all the money transactions relating to Mr Scott and they had been signed by him as “Roy S” or “Roy Scott”.
The officer said Mr Scott told him: “I never requested these withdrawals and the signature is definitely not mine”.
Two handwriting experts, who examined the diary, declared that the signatures were different from Mr Scott’s signatures on statements he had given to the police. Forensic Scientist, Jonathan Morris, told the jury: “The levels of difference were such that in our opinion there was no evidence that Roy Sott was responsible for the questioned signatures”.
Alongi denied all the charges. She did admit to buying cigarettes and alcohol for Mr Scott.
The court had heard from other carers that he was an alcoholic and could become very aggressive if they did not agree to get him vodka.
Asked by Fiscal Depute Anthony Steele if she had bought Mr Scott vodka and not entered it in the book for her employers, Alongi replied: “Yes, to my shame I did.”
She said Mr Scott told her: “I won’t grass you up. Nobody will know”.
Asked what would have happened if her employers had found out, she replied that she would have been sacked.
The reason for getting Mr Scott to sign the diary was, she added: “I was safeguarding myself.”
Alongi claimed she had become friends with Ms Lynch. She denied suggesting that Ms Lynch get a bank card.
She said she took Ms Lynch, shopping, to the hairdressers and other places, especially to the bingo.
Sometimes Ms Lynch would stay for the morning, afternoon and evening sessions.
“Betty was fun,” she said. “She liked a laugh, she enjoyed everything.”
The jury was sent out to consider their verdict at lunchtime on Thursday. After three hours, they were sent home, and, after an hour yesterday, they returned majority verdicts of guilty on both charges.
Mr Steele told Sheriff Tait that Alongi had no previous convictions and the sheriff deferred sentence for reports until November 25. She allowed Alongi’s bail to continue.
Defence solicitor, Emma Templeton, said she would reserve her plea of mitigation until that date.
As she left the court, Ms Harrison, said she was “more than relieved” with the verdicts.