A 93-year-old Holocaust survivor and her husband in Florida have lost nearly all their life savings after their caretaker allegedly squandered more than $100,000 of their money in recent years.
Nursing assistant Odalis Lopez, 56, was arrested on Friday for allegedly stealing an exorbitant amount of money from elderly Holocaust survivor Rella Herman, and her husband, Leonard, 91, in an extensive credit card scheme that involved grocery stores, gift cards and grand theft. She’s been charged with elderly exploitation and felony grand theft, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
For years, she allegedly duped the elderly couple, dropping a whopping $116,322 at Publix grocery store, much of that on gift card purchases, according to the affidavit. Police say Lopez made used the Hermans’ credit cards at several restaurants, including Chili’s, and spent $625 at Harley Davidson. The Hermans don’t own a motorcycle. The total amount of money allegedly stolen is unknown, but Micah Herman, the couple’s grandson, told Oxygen.com said the amount is, “north of $100,000.”
Between 2011 and 2018, Odalis was allegedly secretly using the couple’s credit cards and hiding their statements to avoid detection. The woman worked for the couple since 2011, according to the family.
“The caretaker was very cunning about the way she went about it,” Micah told Oxygen.com.
“Most mornings or afternoons the caretaker would go out shopping to pick up prescription drugs, small groceries, maybe a challah bread and a coffee for my grandmother. She would these very small purchase for my grandparents, and then turn around and make a completely separate purchase for herself so that if she ever had to show a receipt she wouldn’t be caught," Micah alleged.
He highlighted that these purchases were mainly gift cards.
“You know — from AMEX, where you can use the gift card like cash,” he alleged. “She also bought gift cards for restaurants, retailers, movie theaters, basically funding her entire lifestyle this way. It was so brazen, gross and disgusting.”
“The way I found out about it was out of a movie,” the 41-year-old filmmaker said.
“My grandfather came to me complaining his bills were really high, and he didn’t understand how he could be spending so much money when all he was buying were basic groceries. I mean, they are in their 90s. He couldn’t understand how he could be spending thousands of dollars every month on these kinds of things.”
That’s when Micah’s grandfather began reaching out to the credit card companies, he said. Leonard had a computer, he said, but didn’t know how to use it.
“So I hooked up his desktop, fixed his internet and logged into his account. What I found was a disturbingly high frequency of charges at two of the local Publix grocery stores in the area. Sometimes there would be up to four or five total trips to two different Publix grocery stores in the same day. It was clear something was really wrong.”
Micah told Oxygen.com that he drove to the grocery stores in question and had his grandparents’ alleged itemized receipts printed out.
“When the manager came back, she had this huge stack of paper in her hand,” Micah explained.
“Her face was ashen and looked really worried,” he said. “She told me the card had been clearly compromised — whoever was making the purchases had been buying an incredibly large quantity of gift cards. She said the cards are a real problem in Florida because people use them for money laundering. But she had never seen someone buy this many over such a short period of time. She was as appalled as much as I was and became really emotional. The whole encounter is something that really stuck in my mind.”
In 2018, the family terminated Lopez’s employment.
Lopez was in charge of collecting the mail for the Herman’s, according to her arrest affidavit. Leonard told police he filed a number of reports with AMEX, informing the credit card company he hadn’t received statements in many months, despite incurring several late payment fees and other charges. The affidavit also stated that the AMEX credit card was replaced three separate times during the time Lopez was employed at the Herman’s residence.
From 2011 to 2013, unauthorized purchases from stores and restaurants averaged $4,400 annually, the affidavit stated. By 2014, it increased to $15,232 annually, and even more from 2015-16.
Micah has since started a GoFundMe to help his grandparents bounce back from the brink of near financial ruin. So far, it’s raised nearly $13,000. He claimed that Lopez robbed his grandmother of her Holocaust reparations checks, which she’s been receiving from the German government for decades.
“The caretaker completely cleaned out my grandparents of their life savings,” he alleged. “They planned to live the twilight of their lives frugally in the house they have lived in since 1963. But now they are in a real bind and don’t have the money for home care and basic needs.”
He added that his grandparents were already reeling from the death of their son, Micah’s father, who passed away in 2015 after a battle with cancer. Rella, he said, who's originally from Hungary, spent time in Auschwitz in the 1940s and survived a death march. Micah said he doesn't even know if his grandmother will be able to testify in court because she's so devastated from the credit card theft.
“My grandmother is a person who sees beauty in the world,” he said. “When she told me about being freed from the concentration camps, the thing she always recalls is seeing butterflies flying around, all this beauty and positivity in the world. She embraced life and always saw the best in people. And this woman took advantage of that and manipulated and exploited her for her own means. That betrayal, coupled with the death of her son, was just too much. It took the wind out of her sails, and challenged the way she thought about people in life.”
PEOPLE.com reported that Lopez has since bonded out of jail and is due to appear in court in September.
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