BRADENTON -- Ruby Young, 90, always managed her own money, and she knew to the penny what she had in the bank.
In her retirement, she bought a house with an apartment in the back and leased it herself. She vetted the tenants and would evict anyone who wouldn't pay their rent on time.
So her daughter and son-in-law were shocked when they checked in on her and found that nearly $30,000 was missing from her bank accounts, and that it apparently was her tenant, Nathain L. Moyer, who had taken her money.
In 2011 and 2012, Moyer had taken Young to the ATM numerous times to get money for medicine he told her he needed. He had "borrowed" money to pay legal fees for an inheritance he promised he was getting and would use to pay her back. And he shorted her on the rent he owed her, according to police and court records.
During a plea hearing, Judge John Lakin told Moyer he found his "conduct to be horrific."
Young had "meticulous records" of her bank accounts and all of the money that was missing. She had even written up a promissory note and had Moyers sign it, according to police and court records. She kept track of everything and quickly discovered two checks that had been stolen from her checkbook. But she was taken in by a sad story and a promise of repayment.
The whole ordeal left Young feeling vulnerable and defeated.
"After my encounters with Nathain I don't feel secure financially," Young told Judge Lakin in court last week.
"My reserve money is exhausted.
"Nathain is the first con person I have experienced. He is a slick one. He has the next lie thought up before he needs it so his story fits together nicely."
All too often in Florida, the elderly who are living on a lifetime of savings are taken advantage of by people who befriend them and gain their trust, all the while draining their savings accounts. Many times the victims are lonely, or suffering from dementia or memory loss, or they are more trusting of the people around them.
Consumer protection organizations and law enforcement have recognized seniors' vulnerabilities and are stepping up efforts to protect their banks accounts.
Last month several state and federal agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, offered guidelines to banks and other institutions urging them to report suspected fraudulent or illegal activity. Banks have hesitated about disclosing a customer's private, personal information, leaving elderly citizens especially vulnerable to theft because they are embarrassed to report scams. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which has been praised by the division of Seniors vs. Crime in the Florida Attorney General's office, offers common-sense exceptions to allow reporting of possible fraud or unauthorized transactions.
The Florida Attorney General's office created the Seniors Vs. Crime division in 1989 specifically to investigate crimes against seniors and to involve seniors in uncovering scams aimed at the elderly.
The State Attorney's office for the 12th Judicial District, recently created a white-collar crime division with the aim of going after those who would exploit or defraud the elderly.
Young, who had to let her car and homeowner's insurance lapse after losing $30,000 to Moyer, brought the kind of case the State Attorney's Office keeps on a high priority list. Young had to liquidate all of her retirement accounts just to stabilize her finances and give her enough to meet day-to-day expenses.
The bank noticed suspicious activity when Young went to the ATM with Moyer or wrote him checks more than 200 times, her son-in-law, Mark Clark, testified in court. But bank officials didn't report the transactions to Young's family, even though her daughter was a joint account holder, or to authorities.
"We talked to the people of the local bank sort of expressing our dissatisfaction because they saw all of this going on," Clark testified. "When I went to talk to them they said we saw them at the ATM, the two of them getting money out and we knew something was going on."
Since then, the Clarks have installed a security system in Young's house and have spent more time traveling from their home in Georgia to Florida to check in on Young, he said.
Clark went to the Bradenton Police Department and detailed the case, saying Ruby Young's "heart was bigger than the average person," and that she was "slightly naive" in believing Moyer. Clark got the police department's help in evicting Moyer.
"I think the whole ordeal has shaken her confidence a little bit," Clark testified in court. "She's a trusting person and she would like to see people do well.
"I think this whole thing just sort of caught her off guard that someone would take advantage of her that long."
After investigators from the police department and the state attorney's office put together an extensive investigation detailing every time Moyer took money from the elderly woman, he agreed to plead no contest to exploitation of an elderly person and forging her checks -- leaving the sentence up to Judge Lakin.
Assistant State Attorney Lisa Chittaro requested jail time, saying that Moyer had several opportunities to repay Young, but never had.
"Not only is this crime committed against an elderly woman taking money from her -- it wasn't a loan -- it was stealing," she said. But when he did have an opportunity to repay her, "he was working at 7-Eleven, he was working a job and he didn't pay Ruby Young back anything."
If Moyer was hoping for the judge to go easy on him, offering to let him only pay restitution as his defense attorney requested, he got a surprise.
Lakin sentenced Moyer to five years in prison, followed by five years of probation during which he was ordered to repay Young at $516 a month.
"I take great exception to the conduct here," Lakin told Moyer in court. "I find the conduct to be horrific. This is a woman, who by my calculation was born in 1923" -- here the judge was interrupted by Young who was in the courtroom and corrected him, "1922, Judge."
"I'm sorry, thank you," the judge told her. "Ruby has survived World War II, lived through a generation where people understood a handshake, where people understood honor and commitment."
The judge continued, telling Moyer he found it "very troubling" that someone could take advantage of her generosity, "after she's contributed so much to this country."
The judge ended with a warning: "You're going to pay that money back, let's be clear about that, you and I are on the same page about that."