A home health aide and two of her daughters have been criminally charged with stealing a combined total of more than $280,000 from the elderly Summit woman the aide had been hired to care for, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo announced Monday.
Denise Letren, 64, of Union Township is charged with second-degree theft, second-degree theft by deception, and third-degree neglect of an elderly person for whom she had a responsibility to care, while 30-year-old Carmen Letren of Newark and 32-year-old Danielle Letren of Lake Hopatcong are each charged with third-degree theft.
An investigation led by Detective Kenneth Luongo of the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Unit revealed that the 91-year-old victim found that she needed home health services following hip surgery that took place approximately six years ago, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Cronin, who is prosecuting the case.
Denise Letren was hired to care for the victim at her home around the clock, earning a weekly salary of $2,500 ($130,000 annually), Cronin said. Yet the investigation, leveraging an exhaustive review of personal financial records and multiple interviews, showed that starting in 2016 and on thousands of occasions thereafter, Letren made sizeable unauthorized purchases on the victim’s credit cards.
Letren allegedly used the stolen funds to purchase items and services such as expensive meals, large purchases of alcohol, repairs to her Lexus, furniture, airline tickets, and men’s clothing, among numerous others. Carmen and Danielle Letren were found to have leveraged similar methods to write themselves checks and use stolen funds on purchases such as a wedding dress. Meanwhile, the victim remained almost entirely homebound in a pest-infested, dilapidated apartment during this time – only leaving her residence to travel to church or medical appointments.
The three defendants were served the charges against them on Friday, pending first appearances to take place in Union County Superior Court.
“Elder abuse is an insidious crime that takes many forms, and it is far more prevalent than one may think — the National Council on Aging estimates that one in 10 Americans of age 60 or older have experienced it, and of the estimated 5 million cases that occur in the U.S. each year, as few as 1 of every 14 are actually reported to authorities,” Prosecutor Ruotolo said. “I commend the excellent investigative work on this case by A.P. Cronin, Det. Luongo, and members of our Special Prosecutions Unit, who are dedicated to serving the interests of justice on behalf of often marginalized victims.”
Convictions on second-degree criminal charges are commonly punishable by 5 to 10 years in state prison, while third-degree crimes can result in terms of 3 to 5 years.
These criminal charges are mere accusations. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Anyone who suspects that someone they know may be a victim of elder abuse is urged to contact their local police department or the New Jersey Department of Human Services Adult Protective Services.