Caretaker charged in $55,000 theft

The former live-in caretaker for a woman who died last year at 94 pleaded not guilty Thursday to stealing more than $55,000 from her former employer.

Mary Rulka, 56, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of financial exploitation of an elderly person and theft.

Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Ari Fisz said Rulka, of the Rockford suburb Cherry Valley, was paid about $700 per week to provide home care for a West Deerfield Township woman who died last March.

Fisz said a relative of the woman was going over her bank records and noticed a series of withdrawals from her accounts from automatic teller machines at area casinos.

Knowing the victim was not healthy enough to make frequent trips to casinos, Fisz said her relative asked for a comprehensive audit of her accounts.

Investigators from the Lake County sheriff's office found that between July 2008 and March of last year, $29,660 had been taken from the woman's accounts through ATM withdrawals at casinos in this state, Wisconsin and Indiana.

A check of Rulka's frequent player membership records at some of the casinos placed her at the establishments on the dates the withdrawals were made, Fisz said.

In addition, police found $25,640 in checks that had been made out to Rulka and drawn on the victim's accounts.

The investigators determined Rulka was paid her salary from a different account and collected it through direct deposit, Fisz said.

Rulka surrendered on the charges Nov. 9 and was released after posting $1,000 for bond.

Circuit Judge Fred Foreman scheduled a trial of the case for March 4 and ordered Rulka to appear in court Feb. 25.