A former Monroe County bank executive has been found liable in an elder abuse case and ordered to pay the 98-year-old victim more than $325,000 in damages.
Betty B. Brown, former senior vice president at First National Bank of Peterstown, was found liable for converting funds and real estate belonging to Isadora Beavers, who is now a resident of a Rich Creek, Va., nursing home. Brown served Beavers and had power of attorney from early 2009 until July 2013.
A Monroe Circuit Court jury returned the verdict against Brown at the conclusion of a four-day civil trial last week in Union. The jury found Brown liable for fraud, conversion, unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duty. In keeping with the verdict, jurors awarded Beavers compensatory damages of $151,777.06 and assessed punitive damages of an additional $175,000 against Brown.
The bank was not a party to the litigation.
The Register-Herald’s attempts to contact Brown and her attorney, Randall Veneri of Princeton, were unsuccessful.
John Bryan, the Union attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he felt the jury “made a statement” in awarding such significant punitive damages, adding that an amount of that sort is “very, very rare” and that he hopes it serves as a deterrent for others who may be contemplating financial abuse of an elderly person.
Although the suit was brought by Beavers’ co-guardians, John Beavers and Stephen Radis, Bryan said he was first alerted to the situation involving the financial issues by Isadora Beavers herself.
“One day this 97-year-old lady walked into my office and told me she believed the woman who was her power of attorney was stealing from her,” Bryan said. “She was very articulate ... and I wanted to help her.”
Bryan said his first step was to have Brown removed as power of attorney. He then asked the bank for 10 years of records showing step-by-step what Brown’s management of Beavers’ assets consisted of.
“I could see there were a lot of problems there,” Bryan said of the records, noting that the Peterstown bank placed Brown on administrative leave when the irregularities came under scrutiny.
Soon after her visit to Bryan’s law office, however, Beavers suffered a fall and went into a “quick decline,” Bryan said. After Beavers was situated in a nursing home, her family approached the attorney to see if he could help them recapture her real estate, which had been placed in Brown’s name before the bank executive was removed as power of attorney.
“All of the real estate had been deeded to the power of attorney,” Bryan said. “We asked Betty Brown to deed the property back to Mrs. Beavers, but she said she wouldn’t do it unless we agreed to dismiss her from all liability. We couldn’t do that; we decided to file a lawsuit.”
In the course of his investigation of Beavers’ finances, Bryan said he discovered that, in addition to the questionable real estate transfer, all of the elderly woman’s money was in certificates of deposit that were payable on death to Brown.
“Basically, all of her assets were moved into Betty Brown’s name,” Bryan said.
“We weren’t doing it for the money at this point; all of the money will go toward (Beavers’) medical care,” he said. “It was about justice.”
Bryan said he told jurors during last week’s trial, “This is what financial abuse of the elderly looks like. It’s not a purse-snatching; in many ways it’s worse. You have to find a vulnerable elderly person and invest a lot of time gaining their trust. That’s exactly what happened in this case.”
He said it took the jury about two hours to reach a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs.
Bryan said he is aware of a local criminal investigation into Brown’s actions in connection with Beavers’ funds, but he does not know if state authorities will press charges.
“It’s right there on a silver platter if they want to proceed,” he said.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has also requested information on the case, Bryan said.
Unfortunately, he said, this is not an isolated case.
“Elder abuse happens all the time,” Bryan said. “This case probably never would have been discovered but for the fact that Mrs. Beavers came into my office and blew the whistle herself.”
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