A Columbus woman charged with taking more than $25,000 from an elderly man in the hospital pleaded guilty Wednesday in Superior Court.
Roswitha Swain, 62, pleaded guilty to one count of theft by taking and one of exploitation and intimidation of a disabled adult. She was sentenced to two years in prison and 15 years of first-offender probation.
“I know what I did was terribly wrong and I took advantage, and I’m willing to do anything to make it right,” Swain said. Tearfully she turned to tell Harvey Hisaw, “Harvey, I’m terribly sorry I’d do anything to undo what I did.”
He rose to embrace her, but lawyers and bailiffs stopped him.
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Hisaw, 78, an Air Force veteran whose income partly comes from Veteran’s Affairs, hired Swain as his caregiver in 2011. She handled his medications and other intimate tasks.
On Dec. 20, 2013, Hisaw had a seizure that put him in the hospital until mid-March. During that time, Swain took $37,000 to $55,025 in checks, ATM withdrawals and purchases.
CB&T told Hisaw of the fraud when he left the hospital, and refunded $7,000.
Upon arrest, Swain admitted taking money from Hisaw, but claimed she had power of attorney, which Hisaw did not recall granting, according to testimony by Detective A. R. DePietri, who led the investigation.
Swain told police she used the funds to buy a $600 PlayStation 3 for her grandson, and to pay her bills. The rest she spent gambling on scratch-off tickets and slot machines. Swain estimated she owed Hisaw around $37,000.
During the hearing multiple witnesses testified to the amount, including a certified public accountant, DePetri, and the defendant.
The amount was highly contested, with Judge Frank Jordan Jr. setting restitution at $40,986.
“I care for the lady. She did a good job for me and she’ll never be able to pay that money back, and that’s OK,” Hisaw said before breaking into tears.
Jordan merged exploiting a disabled adult into Swain's theft charge, which prosecutor Pete Temesgen said was disappointing.
“Our position is that we think she deserved more time in jail,” Temesgen said after the hearing.
DePetri, who works in the financial crimes unit at the Columbus Police Department, said she has pursued exploitation of the elderly charges before, but in her experience this topped the financial cost. More frequently the charge is added when thieves steal cash from neglected purses, she said.
The charge of exploitation of the elderly is relatively new, with updates to the statute as recent as 2013. Pursuant to Georgia code, the exploitation and intimidation of disabled adults, elder persons, and residents carries its own felony charge with a sentence from one to 20 years, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.
Said Temesgen: “It’s important that we send a message that the most vulnerable among us are protected."