Residents of a Warrenville group home for the developmentally disabled were devastated when they learned house manager Linda Cottrell had been looting their bank accounts.
On Friday, a DuPage County judge called the crimes "unconscionable" as she sentenced Cottrell to 40 months in prison.
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The 37-year-old Justice woman had pleaded guilty to financial exploitation of an disabled person. She admitted stealing about $9,000 from four disabled men residing at Cupertino Home on Warren Avenue.
The thefts happened over a three-year span, Assistant State's Attorney Diane Michalak said. Cottrell's job was to help the victims manage their finances. Instead, she used their ATM cards to drain their accounts and pay her own living expenses.
"Every time she used one of those ATMs, she committed a crime," Judge Kathryn Creswell said at sentencing. "The conduct is unconscionable. It's outrageous."
Cupertino Home Director Margaret Lamary-Speciale testified the facility caters to men with developmental disabilities, such as retardation. All of the victims had the mental capacity of children 10 or younger, she said.
The thefts came to light after Cupertino Home noted irregularities in residents' bank statements.
One victim, who called Cottrell "mom" because of their close relationship, later "expressed feelings of betrayal and feelings of not being able to trust anybody anymore," Lamary-Speciale said. Another became increasingly worried about his finances and told Lamary-Speciale he wanted Cottrell behind bars.
"She betrayed their trust in the most despicable way and -- for her own selfish reasons -- she did it over and over again," Michalak said, seeking a five-year prison term.
In arguing for probation, Assistant Public Defender Jill Eckhaus said poverty and untreated depression motivated the thefts. Cottrell told the court she accepted responsibility and was "deeply ashamed."
"The guilt I have is overwhelming," the mother of three said, wiping away tears.
Cottrell, who had no prior criminal record, agreed to pay full restitution to an insurance company that already reimbursed the victims. She had worked at Cupertino Home for about 12 years.