Before being handed the maximum sentence possible in county court today, caregiver Heidi L. Schollard was described as ruthless, narcissistic, thoughtless, manipulative, dangerous, relentless, remorseless, predatory, cruel, selfish, without mercy and completely clueless as to the gravity of her crimes.
The 40-year-old Batavia woman and mother of two who bilked two elderly patients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars was given up to seven years in prison. In May, she pled guilty to four felonies -- three counts of grand larceny, 3rd, which are Class D felonies, and a single count of grand larceny, 4th, a Class E felony.
On the latter conviction, she got one-and-a-third to four years in prison, and for the other crimes she was given two-and-a-third to seven years. These will be served concurrently under the terms of a plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office.
The caregiver was initially arrested in December 2010 for allegedly stealing about $250,000 from a Batavia resident. She was out of jail during the proceedings in that case and was arrested again in March and accused of defrauding another elderly person. The victim in that case is a resident of the Town of Alabama.
When asked about what some may consider a good deal for the defendant, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said afterward that "there were no assurances with this case" if it had gone to trial. That's because the simple fact that the victims needed a caretaker could call into question their capacity to testify and communicate about the case.
"It is already a hole in the balloon," said a relative of a victim outside the courtroom.
"If Heidi says she was given gifts of money, how do you prove they weren't?" Friedman said, "It's not a slam-dunk and unless you know all the facts of the case, it's easy to -- like the judge said -- be critical."
Schollard, who lives at 161 Bank St., was also ordered to pay restitution to the first victim of $265,131 and $42,026.57 to the second one. In addition, she has to repay the state Department of Taxation and Finance $23,414 and another $2,485 to the NYS Department of Labor. When you tack on another 5-percent surcharge requirement, the order comes to nearly $350,000.
But no one in the courtroom seemed to believe full monetary restitution will ever be made -- certainly not in the victims' lifetime, nor likely in the defendant's lifetime.
In the meanwhile, the victims are having to liquidate many of their assets. And their families are left to pick up the pieces of all the broken lives, according to their testimonies and in letters filed with the court.
The first speaker this afternoon identified himself as a victim's son and told Judge Noonan:
"We were an average American family -- we spent the holidays at my parent's house, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays. We had bumps, but we all got along. Then Heidi came into the house and started to change everything. She moved around the furniture. She did things her way. It became Heidi's house. I didn't even like to enter the house. It felt foreign."
Add this to the mix -- Heidi's in a romantic relationship with his nephew and now the lines of communication in the family are strained.
"We're no longer a family, we have no base anymore, it's gone," he said, choking back his tears.
The next speaker said his aunt was a victim and that Schollard first came into the picture in 2006 when she was highly recommended as a caregiver. In time, the employee's actions resulted in his aunt not being able to live out her years in the lovely home she had had all her life.
"She ruthlessly and thoughtlessly manipulated my aunt to further her criminal plans," the man said.
His aunt experienced a "profound loss of trust, deep depression, self recrimination and has lost her will to live and this has impacted her health."
The nephew went on to say that besides stealing huge amounts of money via hundreds of fraudulent checks and ATM transactions, she continuously violated basic personal boundaries.
As an example of Schollard's manipulative behavior, the nephew said she frequently introduced herself to people as the woman's daughter or granddaughter. She even insisted on being allowed to sit in on his aunt's sessions with her psychiatrist. But the doctor refused and deemed Schollard to be "dangerous."
When his aunt was placed in an assisted-living facility, he said Schollard would go there, after being told to have no contact with her, and not sign in at the front desk. She'd leave with his aunt and then bring her back just in time for her meds so she wouldn't be missed. She gave his aunt a cell phone and only Schollard knew the number to it. Ultimately, he says Schollard tried to move his aunt out of the facility. And not long ago, she tried to contact his aunt in violation of a court order, the nephew said.
A CPA, who had been one of the victim's tax advisor for 25 years and is now a financial co-guardian of the estate, said that in his entire 35-year career, he has never encountered such an egregious example of elder abuse. The accountant said that in the week leading up to a family meeting about the forensic examination of the victim's financial records and the dispensation of 249 checks, Schollard misappropriated $50,000 and covered her tracks by cooking up a second set of books.
Throughout the whole ordeal, the tax man said Schollard showed no remorse whatsoever.
After the testimonies, Friedman said the picture that emerged reflects exactly what "someone like her would say and do," and he told Noonan she deserved no consideration of leniency.
"No one wants her to be at liberty to pay back some part of the restitution," Friedman said. "We seek the strongest maximum sentence."
Noonan said over the past several days he spent hours poring over a voluminous case file. Oddly, the last letter he read was written last week by Schollard herself, and it's chock full of attempted manipulation in order to get leniency. Noonan said it had the complete opposite effect on him.
The other letters he read amounted to more than just the rantings of angry victims. It was practically a case study in how someone can methodically victimize the frail and elderly.
He knows because during the last two years he said he's attended seminars about an emerging trend in the courts -- elder abuse -- which will likely continue as more Baby Boomers age.
Then Noonan put this case in context of his time spent on the bench. In the last 16 years, having meted out prison times for more than 100 cases a year on a wide range of crimes, Heidi L. Schollard's case is a rarity.
"This is a case that's different from any I've ever had before," Noonan said, not only for the huge theft -- none has ever totalled up to this much money, but also because it's rare that he sentences nonviolent, first offenders to a lengthy prison term.
"You are so narcissistic, so self-centered, so unaware of how your conduct fits into the world," Noonan told Schollard. "Society needs to be rid of you for as long as possible. ... You just don't get it...You are a thief who apparently has enough charm to make the elderly feel you are their friend but you are not."
Even her attorney said "We won't waste the court's time asking for mercy."
The perp was sullen, dressed in a gray hoodie and matching pants, wearing white sneakers, tortoise shell-rimmed glasses, with her hair pulled back in a stubby ponytail. Gone was her mug shot's pert semblance of a smile and look of wide-eyed wonder. She sat with slumped shoulders, eyes cast downward, and had nothing to say when the judge asked her if she wanted to speak.
After sentencing, a deputy ushered her off to jail.
Outside the courtroom, her brother-in-law stood, seeming somewhat dazed about what had just taken place. He said this has been a long time in coming and he wanted to witness the proceedings firsthand, so later on Heidi can't lie about what was said. He said she is a pathological liar.
"She's been a peach to deal with for 10 or 15 years," he said, noting that she always blames her troubles on others, or the past.
He said she is the second youngest of 12 children who were split up during childhood and put in foster homes "where some bad things happened." But she denies responsiblity for her actions.
Now he and her sister are the guardians of the former caregiver's children and will be for years to come.