CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A federal jury handed down a guilty verdict against a Charlotte woman late Thursday, for her involvement in a $300,000 embezzlement scheme perpetrated on an elderly, dementia-afflicted victim, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Donna Graves, 58, was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. U.S. District Judge, Max O. Cogburn, Jr. presided over the trial.
Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the of the Atlanta Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which oversees Charlotte, Michael E. Stansbury, Acting Special Agent in Charge for the FBI in North Carolina, and Chief Tim W. Ledford of the Mint Hill Police Department join U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
According to filed court documents, evidence presented at trial and witness testimony, from January 2015 through September 2019, Graves and her two co-conspirators, Gerald Maxwell Harrison and Elizabeth Robin Williams, engaged in a scheme to defraud a victim identified in court documents as “K.T.” The victim was an elderly widow who lived alone and suffered from dementia and other physical and mental challenges.
Trial evidence established that, beginning in February 2014, Graves and Williams provided housekeeping services for the victim through a business owned and operated by Graves. Court records show that, over the course of the scheme, the co-conspirators isolated the victim from her friends and family, induced the victim to give them power and control over her personal affairs, and fabricated a power of attorney purporting to give Graves and Williams control over the victim’s financial affairs. According to trial evidence and witness testimony, once they gained access and control, Graves, Williams, and Harrison moved the victim out of her residence in Indian Land, South Carolina, first to an apartment in Charlotte, and later to a rental home in Mint Hill, refusing to let the victim’s friends and family know where she was living.
Trial evidence also established that Graves, Williams, and Harrison engaged in numerous illegal and unauthorized financial transactions that substantially depleted the victim’s money and property. Specifically, the co-conspirators emptied the victim’s bank accounts and used the money to pay for personal expenses, and they fraudulently “maxed out” at least one credit card in the victim’s name. The co-conspirators also fraudulently transferred or attempted to transfer the victim’s Indian Land residence to themselves by creating a quit claim deed purporting to gift the residence to Harrison, they pawned the victim’s jewelry, and they stole the victim’s federal benefits. Additionally, Williams unlawfully used the victim’s money to set up other businesses in her name, including a business selling handbags online and a business selling weight loss-related services. As a result of the fraudulent scheme, the co-conspirators defrauded the victim of more than $300,000.
In May 2020, Williams and Harrison pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen property, and money laundering conspiracy. The wire fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The statutory maximum penalty for the money laundering conspiracy charge is 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The interstate transportation of stolen property charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
In making today’s announcement U.S. Attorney Murray commended the Mint Hill Police Department, the FBI, and USPIS for their investigation of this case.
Assistant United States Attorneys Kenneth M. Smith and Caryn D. Finley, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, are prosecuting the case.
In March 2019, U.S. Attorney Murray announced the Office’s Elder Justice Initiative, which aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud; and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners. For more information please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative