Suit claims nursing home covered up employees' theft from patient

Posted12/5/2019 3:42 PM

When managers and owners of a Lincoln Park nursing home learned employees had stolen more than $700,000 from a 98-year-old resident who has Alzheimer's disease, they didn't fire them or go to authorities -- they sought to cover it up, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The Cook County public guardian's office filed a 335-page complaint seeking monetary damages for four entities that own Symphony Residences, several managers and the five employees accused of stealing Grace Watanabe's life savings.


Public Guardian Charles Golbert's lawsuit said a nursing home executive resorted to locking Watanabe in her office to keep county social workers from moving her to another nursing home.

Word of the standoff got back to Golbert, who dispatched Dawn Lawkowski-Keller, an attorney who works in his office's financial recovery unit.

After a shouting match, Lawkowski-Keller boiled it down for Symphony Executive Director Erika Cruz: "You have 5 minutes or we're calling the cops."

Cruz released Watanabe.

An investigation by Golbert's office later concluded that five nursing home employees used Watanabe as their personal piggy bank -- draining her life savings through a series of ATM withdrawals, forged checks and other payments.

While not accused of taking part in the theft, the lawsuit alleges Cruz and other nursing home executives were aware of it and didn't report it to law enforcement.

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A representative of Symphony, reached Thursday via email, reiterated a statement previously sent to the Sun-Times: "Upon learning of the incident involving Ms. Watanabe, we immediately notified law enforcement authorities to investigate and seek restitution for Ms. Watanabe, and we are cooperating with those agencies."

Two of the five employees accused in the civil suit of stealing from Watanabe have been charged criminally with financial exploitation of an elderly person.

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