Oct 10, 2011

Woman gets only 10 years after keeping disabled man captive.

Caregiver crime growing

By Bill Rankin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After the basement flooded, the squalor finally overwhelmed Johnny Ray Hill.
.“I wasn’t a tenant anymore,” Hill testified recently. “I’d become a hostage.”
Hill, 59, said he was trapped in a windowless basement room in a DeKalb County home for almost six months ending in March 2010, sharing the room with a mentally disabled stranger. For breakfast, they got Ramen noodles in Country Crock margarine containers; for dinner, two bologna sandwiches. They used 5-gallon paint buckets for toilets.
Their landlord, Chandra Renee Faust, 43, now faces criminal charges. County and state officials say the allegations shine light on a disturbing and growing phenomenon in which freelancing caregivers and renters prey on vulnerable people to get access to their disability checks.
DeKalb District Attorney Robert James said Faust offered to take the two men into her home to care for them.
“But in reality, they were being neglected and exploited,” he said. “This is a call to action. There are people taking in our seniors and disabled adults to get rich. They need to be licensed, they should be regulated and if there’s neglect and abuse, they should be punished.”
A DeKalb grand jury in December indicted Faust for false imprisonment, identity fraud, theft and exploitation and abuse of the disabled.
James Bulot, director of the state Division of Aging Services, citing national statistics, estimated that 40,000 to 60,000 elderly and disabled Georgia residents are abused, neglected and exploited each year. Included in this estimate are those being taken advantage of by unscrupulous and unlicensed caregivers, he said.
“It’s steadily increasing,” Bulot said. “Partly it’s due to the state of our economy and also because this involves vulnerable people who have a steady income.”
Bulot said disabled people who need a roof over their heads should turn to state-regulated personal care homes that must meet standards before receiving a license.
Most cases of abuse and exploitation involve relatives or personal care givers who gain their clients’ trust, Pat King, a state forensic investigator, said. But there are also those who recruit disabled individuals, going so far as to wait for patients to be discharged from psychiatric facilities and asking if they have a place to live.
“We see this stuff going on every single day,” King said. “They just want that check.”
At a hearing last month on what evidence can be used at Faust’s trial, a DeKalb prosecutor said Faust has been taking advantage of elderly and disabled individuals since 2002, although this is the first time she’s been charged.
Faust’s trial is scheduled for September. She denies the charges, her lawyer, Keith Adams, said last week. He declined comment on Hill’s account of the living conditions.
Hill, using a cane, walked unsteadily to the witness stand during the recent hearing. For about an hour he described how he came to live in Faust’s home — and how he finally escaped from it.
For years, Hill testified, he has been unable to work, collecting $600 a month in disability that he deposited in a Wachovia savings account. The former car detailer has been in and out of hospitals for tuberculosis, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, broken hips and hypertension. In June 2009, after being treated for a blood clot in his chest, Hill was living at the shelter at Peachtree and Pine streets downtown. One day, Hill testified, Faust drove up and asked if he needed a room, saying she rented them at her Decatur home. Hill declined.
Faust approached him two more times, and, on the second occasion, he took her up on it, Hill said.
Faust already had one tenant — Ben Wheeler, a mentally disabled man who lived in one of two basement rooms.
The living conditions were sparse. Each room had a lamp, a TV, a water jug, a small aluminum bowl to wash up in and a cot that sat on the floor. A paint bucket was to be used for going to the bathroom in case of an emergency; otherwise, the men could use the bathroom in the home upstairs. Faust told the men she intended to eventually renovate the basement, Hill testified.
Hill paid Faust $500 a month, and said that he accepted the conditions until September 2009 when Faust made him move into Wheeler’s room after water seeped into the basement because of heavy rains.
Hill said he complained so much that Faust became hostile. She also locked the door to the two men’s room and no longer granted them access to the bathroom upstairs, Hill said.
“The living conditions were unbearable,” Hill said. “I asked to leave. ... But she refused. She became like a prison guard.”
Faust also took Hill’s tote bag containing his birth certificate and Social Security card, he said.
Hill said he decided he had only two options: a homicide — his or hers — or an escape.
“I had my mind made up I was going to leave that basement,” he testified.
After hearing Faust’s Cadillac Escalade drive away on March 6, 2010, Hill said, he took a metal stem from his lamp and used it to pop the lock on his door. Then, with the help of Wheeler, he unlocked another basement door.
It was a chilly morning and Hill, wrapped in a quilt, set out walking in search of a police officer.
The officer found him first, pulling over to ask the disheveled figure what he was up to. After Hill told the officer he was escaping from squalid detention, he testified, she told him to take her there.
Hill said it had been so long since he had been outdoors, he had difficulty finding Faust’s home until they drove by and saw Wheeler standing outside. After the officer went into the basement and looked around, Hill said, detectives and other officers swarmed the scene.
Prosecutors allege that during the time Hill was locked downstairs, Faust put her name on his bank account and got her own debit card and personal checks — all without Hill’s permission. She made withdrawals and cashed a $1,280 check from his account in January 2010, according to evidence presented by prosecutors.
Faust exhibited little emotion as Hill testified. Adams, her lawyer, indicated that Faust’s two children — a teenage daughter and a younger son — lived in the Clifton Springs Manor home while Hill and Wheeler were in the basement.
Assistant District Attorney Jeanne Canavan said Faust engaged in similar behavior nine years earlier.
Canavan asked DeKalb Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson to allow prosecutors to present evidence at trial of alleged, past misconduct to try to show Faust had a pattern of the same criminal activity and intent.
In May 2002, Canavan said, police were called to a house then being rented by Faust where they found a number of elderly people residing.
“The conditions they observed were abhorrent,” she said, noting that the volume was turned up on the TV in the house upstairs so complaints could not be heard from the residents living below.
One of the residents, a 67-year-old man, had escaped through a window. He told neighbors, who called 911, that he was dehydrated and felt as if he were in jail, Canavan said.
Most of the residents were sleeping on cots that looked just like the one Wheeler had, Canavan said. They were using the same kind of paint bucket for a toilet, eating out of Country Crock plastic containers and paying Faust with their disability checks, the prosecutor said.
“She gives people the bare minimum of care it takes to keep them alive so she can take their money,” Canavan said. “This is the modus operandi. This is why she picks people up ... and puts them in every nook and cranny of her home.”
Johnson, issuing a preliminary ruling, said she will allow some of the evidence to be admitted at trial.

Please read complete article at link below: