BEHIND THE CRIMES: Concerned friends uncovered scam that targeted vulnerable senior

News Sep 24, 2020 by Jeff Mitchell DurhamRegion.com

At first, Ethel Hockett resisted when her friends raised concerns that she was being taken advantage of by the man who had gained her trust. But they persisted, urging her to speak to the police.

Then Hockett learned there was a sizeable debt on her house – which had been mortgage-free for decades – and the bank was poised to foreclose.

Durham police were called, and launched an investigation that would reveal the Oshawa senior had been targeted in a scam that nearly resulted in the loss of her home. The investigation would lead to convictions on fraud-related charges against three people, with the man identified as the ringleader being sentenced to six years in prison (a fourth suspect pleaded guilty early on in the course of events).

According to the lead investigator on the case, it was the action taken by Hockett’s friends at the Salvation Army Church in Oshawa that revealed the elderly widow was being taken advantage of by a career criminal.

“They stepped up,” said Durham police Detective Martin Franssen, who specializes in financial crimes. “Ethel did not want to believe this. But they kept after her, and I’m so glad they did.”

The cause for concern for Hockett’s friends was the odd relationship they’d seen developing between the senior and Alexsander Budimirovic, a newcomer to the Salvation Army congregation. Hockett, who was 89 at the time, was well-known for careful management of her affairs. She liked to tell people that the house she and her husband had bought in the 1980s had been paid off in less than a decade, and remained debt-free.

So when Hockett disclosed the fact that she’d been loaning money to Budimirovic, a man she’d hired to do repairs at the house, Salvation Army Colonel Lindsay Rowe took notice.

“I was concerned, given Ethel’s state of mind and the fact that it was deteriorating, that she was being taken advantage of,” Rowe would say later.

Rowe’s suspicions deepened in early 2016 when Budimirovic, who was at the time fighting drug trafficking charges, approached him for a character reference. Rowe was reluctant to write the letter Budimirovic sought, and told him so. Rowe raised the issue of Budimirovic’s relationship with Hockett, which by then had been ongoing for some time.

“Ethel had indicated that Alexsander had been asking to borrow money from her,” Rowe said. “I indicated to him that I was concerned about what might be his relationship with Ethel.”

Rowe said Budimirovic responded by producing a copy of a certificate indicating Hockett had purchased $140,000 worth of shares in his construction company.

“I questioned him as to where Ethel could possibly have got that kind of money. I kept the (certificate) in my file and eventually turned (it) over to the police,” Rowe said. “I persuaded Ethel that she needed to talk to the police.”

That same month Christine Carr, a friend who had known Hockett all her life, accompanied the senior to her bank. They were stunned by what they discovered.

“I learned she had a large mortgage that had been taken on her house,” Carr would later say.

“She was completely shocked,” Carr said of Hockett. “She had no idea that amount of money was owing, and that it was tied to her house.”

Franssen’s investigation revealed that Budimirovic had joined with Harold Alan Stewart, a retired Presbyterian minister from Prince Edward Island, in defrauding Hockett, convincing her to take out a six-figure line of credit, using her home as security, and write a sizable cheque – in the amount of $138,500 -- to Stewart. The men told Hockett they wished to establish a therapy centre for men with substance abuse issues. The money, evidence heard at trial, went into Stewart’s personal bank account (in fact, the first cheque Hockett wrote bounced, so she was instructed to write another).

Police also learned Budimirovic had coaxed Hockett into giving him access to her credit card. Court heard conversations, taped by the bank involved, during which Hockett asked staff to increase the limit on the card, as Budimirovic stood nearby and instructed her.

Hockett was not the first senior targeted by Budimirovic. Nearly 10 years before Hockett’s friends in Oshawa were becoming concerned about her dealings with him, Budimirovic had engaged in similar behaviour, according to court records.

The allegations in the documents provide insight into a chilling template employed by Budimirovic – befriending a vulnerable widow, gaining her trust, and then convincing her to sign over title to her home.

According to the court records Budimirovic was sued in 2009 by a company that had insured two mortgages, valued at more than $400,000, taken out on a property in Toronto. The company, Stewart Title Guaranty, had insured the mortgages and paid out the initial lenders, according to a statement of claim.

The claim alleges that in the spring of 2006 Budimirovic was hired to do kitchen renovations for Anne Yovan Hoben, an 82-year-old widow who lived alone in the Johnston Avenue house she’d owned since the late 1960s. Budimirovic befriended Hoben, who at the time had been declared cognitively impaired by doctors, according to the claim.

By July of 2006 Hoben had transferred the title of her property to herself and Budimirovic, according to the claim. By the end of that summer Budimirovic had obtained two mortgages valued at more than $400,000 on the property.

The developments were the result of a calculated scam that targeted a vulnerable senior, Stewart Title alleged.

“Simply put, Budimirovic took advantage of Mrs. Hoben’s cognitive impairment and had her transfer title of the property and further encumber title to the property for his own personal gain and interests,” the lawsuit claimed.

The claim was decided in the company’s favour in Superior Court, and Budimirovic was ordered to pay Stewart Guaranty more than $446,000. An earlier judgment, issued by the Superior Court in 2010, rendered the transfer granting Budimirovic title to Hoben’s property void.

None of this was evidence at the trial of Budimirovic and his co-accused in Oshawa in the fall of 2018. But a jury convicted all three of crimes perpetrated against Hockett, finding Budimirovic guilty of every charge he faced.

Stewart was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Budimirovic, who had already amassed a lengthy criminal record, was sentenced to six years in prison. Budimirovic’s wife, Ashley Carlson, was convicted of improper use of Hockett’s credit card and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

By the time those accused of the frauds went to trial, Hockett, who had been showing signs of cognitive deterioration when her friends first raised the alarm, was in a retirement home with dementia. She died in February of 2019.

Hockett’s final lucid days were overshadowed by anxiety and confusion, according to her longtime friend Christine Carr.

“Ethel’s late 80s and 90s years were fraught with worry,” a tearful Carr said during a sentencing hearing at the Oshawa courthouse in March of 2019.

“The home Ethel and (her late husband) Fred bought was in the process of repossession by the bank for mortgage arrears,” Carr said. “She feared being homeless and on the street.”

What happened to Hockett is all too common among seniors, who can be easy marks for scammers because of their tendency to trust and seek friendship with others, said Franssen, a season fraud investigator. Franssen noted that it’s not uncommon for seniors who have been victimized to go into rapid mental and physical decline once they realize they’ve been defrauded.

“This affects people,” he said. “It becomes an issue of depression and mental health. The victimization continues.”

Franssen noted that federal privacy laws have been amended to allow workers at financial institutions to air concerns they have about vulnerable people being taken advantage of – and that many banks now have a policy of doing so.

“It can be an internal investigation. It can be a call to the police,” he said. “There have been financial institutions that have done it multiple times and saved thousands and thousands of dollars from being lost by vulnerable people.”

Franssen said it’s up to all of us to look out for the welfare of vulnerable people, and to take action when we suspect something is not right.

“What I call it is, step in and step up,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to protect people,” he said.

If you suspect someone is a target of fraud, call your local police service. Durham police can be reached at 905-579-1520.

 

BEHIND THE CRIMES: Concerned friends uncovered scam that targeted vulnerable senior

'She was completely shocked. She had no idea that amount of money was owing, and that it was tied to her house.'

News Sep 24, 2020 by Jeff Mitchell DurhamRegion.com

At first, Ethel Hockett resisted when her friends raised concerns that she was being taken advantage of by the man who had gained her trust. But they persisted, urging her to speak to the police.

Then Hockett learned there was a sizeable debt on her house – which had been mortgage-free for decades – and the bank was poised to foreclose.

Durham police were called, and launched an investigation that would reveal the Oshawa senior had been targeted in a scam that nearly resulted in the loss of her home. The investigation would lead to convictions on fraud-related charges against three people, with the man identified as the ringleader being sentenced to six years in prison (a fourth suspect pleaded guilty early on in the course of events).

According to the lead investigator on the case, it was the action taken by Hockett’s friends at the Salvation Army Church in Oshawa that revealed the elderly widow was being taken advantage of by a career criminal.

Related Content

“They stepped up,” said Durham police Detective Martin Franssen, who specializes in financial crimes. “Ethel did not want to believe this. But they kept after her, and I’m so glad they did.”

The cause for concern for Hockett’s friends was the odd relationship they’d seen developing between the senior and Alexsander Budimirovic, a newcomer to the Salvation Army congregation. Hockett, who was 89 at the time, was well-known for careful management of her affairs. She liked to tell people that the house she and her husband had bought in the 1980s had been paid off in less than a decade, and remained debt-free.

So when Hockett disclosed the fact that she’d been loaning money to Budimirovic, a man she’d hired to do repairs at the house, Salvation Army Colonel Lindsay Rowe took notice.

“I was concerned, given Ethel’s state of mind and the fact that it was deteriorating, that she was being taken advantage of,” Rowe would say later.

Rowe’s suspicions deepened in early 2016 when Budimirovic, who was at the time fighting drug trafficking charges, approached him for a character reference. Rowe was reluctant to write the letter Budimirovic sought, and told him so. Rowe raised the issue of Budimirovic’s relationship with Hockett, which by then had been ongoing for some time.

“Ethel had indicated that Alexsander had been asking to borrow money from her,” Rowe said. “I indicated to him that I was concerned about what might be his relationship with Ethel.”

Rowe said Budimirovic responded by producing a copy of a certificate indicating Hockett had purchased $140,000 worth of shares in his construction company.

“I questioned him as to where Ethel could possibly have got that kind of money. I kept the (certificate) in my file and eventually turned (it) over to the police,” Rowe said. “I persuaded Ethel that she needed to talk to the police.”

That same month Christine Carr, a friend who had known Hockett all her life, accompanied the senior to her bank. They were stunned by what they discovered.

“I learned she had a large mortgage that had been taken on her house,” Carr would later say.

“She was completely shocked,” Carr said of Hockett. “She had no idea that amount of money was owing, and that it was tied to her house.”

Franssen’s investigation revealed that Budimirovic had joined with Harold Alan Stewart, a retired Presbyterian minister from Prince Edward Island, in defrauding Hockett, convincing her to take out a six-figure line of credit, using her home as security, and write a sizable cheque – in the amount of $138,500 -- to Stewart. The men told Hockett they wished to establish a therapy centre for men with substance abuse issues. The money, evidence heard at trial, went into Stewart’s personal bank account (in fact, the first cheque Hockett wrote bounced, so she was instructed to write another).

Police also learned Budimirovic had coaxed Hockett into giving him access to her credit card. Court heard conversations, taped by the bank involved, during which Hockett asked staff to increase the limit on the card, as Budimirovic stood nearby and instructed her.

Hockett was not the first senior targeted by Budimirovic. Nearly 10 years before Hockett’s friends in Oshawa were becoming concerned about her dealings with him, Budimirovic had engaged in similar behaviour, according to court records.

The allegations in the documents provide insight into a chilling template employed by Budimirovic – befriending a vulnerable widow, gaining her trust, and then convincing her to sign over title to her home.

According to the court records Budimirovic was sued in 2009 by a company that had insured two mortgages, valued at more than $400,000, taken out on a property in Toronto. The company, Stewart Title Guaranty, had insured the mortgages and paid out the initial lenders, according to a statement of claim.

The claim alleges that in the spring of 2006 Budimirovic was hired to do kitchen renovations for Anne Yovan Hoben, an 82-year-old widow who lived alone in the Johnston Avenue house she’d owned since the late 1960s. Budimirovic befriended Hoben, who at the time had been declared cognitively impaired by doctors, according to the claim.

By July of 2006 Hoben had transferred the title of her property to herself and Budimirovic, according to the claim. By the end of that summer Budimirovic had obtained two mortgages valued at more than $400,000 on the property.

The developments were the result of a calculated scam that targeted a vulnerable senior, Stewart Title alleged.

“Simply put, Budimirovic took advantage of Mrs. Hoben’s cognitive impairment and had her transfer title of the property and further encumber title to the property for his own personal gain and interests,” the lawsuit claimed.

The claim was decided in the company’s favour in Superior Court, and Budimirovic was ordered to pay Stewart Guaranty more than $446,000. An earlier judgment, issued by the Superior Court in 2010, rendered the transfer granting Budimirovic title to Hoben’s property void.

None of this was evidence at the trial of Budimirovic and his co-accused in Oshawa in the fall of 2018. But a jury convicted all three of crimes perpetrated against Hockett, finding Budimirovic guilty of every charge he faced.

Stewart was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Budimirovic, who had already amassed a lengthy criminal record, was sentenced to six years in prison. Budimirovic’s wife, Ashley Carlson, was convicted of improper use of Hockett’s credit card and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

By the time those accused of the frauds went to trial, Hockett, who had been showing signs of cognitive deterioration when her friends first raised the alarm, was in a retirement home with dementia. She died in February of 2019.

Hockett’s final lucid days were overshadowed by anxiety and confusion, according to her longtime friend Christine Carr.

“Ethel’s late 80s and 90s years were fraught with worry,” a tearful Carr said during a sentencing hearing at the Oshawa courthouse in March of 2019.

“The home Ethel and (her late husband) Fred bought was in the process of repossession by the bank for mortgage arrears,” Carr said. “She feared being homeless and on the street.”

What happened to Hockett is all too common among seniors, who can be easy marks for scammers because of their tendency to trust and seek friendship with others, said Franssen, a season fraud investigator. Franssen noted that it’s not uncommon for seniors who have been victimized to go into rapid mental and physical decline once they realize they’ve been defrauded.

“This affects people,” he said. “It becomes an issue of depression and mental health. The victimization continues.”

Franssen noted that federal privacy laws have been amended to allow workers at financial institutions to air concerns they have about vulnerable people being taken advantage of – and that many banks now have a policy of doing so.

“It can be an internal investigation. It can be a call to the police,” he said. “There have been financial institutions that have done it multiple times and saved thousands and thousands of dollars from being lost by vulnerable people.”

Franssen said it’s up to all of us to look out for the welfare of vulnerable people, and to take action when we suspect something is not right.

“What I call it is, step in and step up,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to protect people,” he said.

If you suspect someone is a target of fraud, call your local police service. Durham police can be reached at 905-579-1520.

 

BEHIND THE CRIMES: Concerned friends uncovered scam that targeted vulnerable senior

'She was completely shocked. She had no idea that amount of money was owing, and that it was tied to her house.'

News Sep 24, 2020 by Jeff Mitchell DurhamRegion.com

At first, Ethel Hockett resisted when her friends raised concerns that she was being taken advantage of by the man who had gained her trust. But they persisted, urging her to speak to the police.

Then Hockett learned there was a sizeable debt on her house – which had been mortgage-free for decades – and the bank was poised to foreclose.

Durham police were called, and launched an investigation that would reveal the Oshawa senior had been targeted in a scam that nearly resulted in the loss of her home. The investigation would lead to convictions on fraud-related charges against three people, with the man identified as the ringleader being sentenced to six years in prison (a fourth suspect pleaded guilty early on in the course of events).

According to the lead investigator on the case, it was the action taken by Hockett’s friends at the Salvation Army Church in Oshawa that revealed the elderly widow was being taken advantage of by a career criminal.

Related Content

“They stepped up,” said Durham police Detective Martin Franssen, who specializes in financial crimes. “Ethel did not want to believe this. But they kept after her, and I’m so glad they did.”

The cause for concern for Hockett’s friends was the odd relationship they’d seen developing between the senior and Alexsander Budimirovic, a newcomer to the Salvation Army congregation. Hockett, who was 89 at the time, was well-known for careful management of her affairs. She liked to tell people that the house she and her husband had bought in the 1980s had been paid off in less than a decade, and remained debt-free.

So when Hockett disclosed the fact that she’d been loaning money to Budimirovic, a man she’d hired to do repairs at the house, Salvation Army Colonel Lindsay Rowe took notice.

“I was concerned, given Ethel’s state of mind and the fact that it was deteriorating, that she was being taken advantage of,” Rowe would say later.

Rowe’s suspicions deepened in early 2016 when Budimirovic, who was at the time fighting drug trafficking charges, approached him for a character reference. Rowe was reluctant to write the letter Budimirovic sought, and told him so. Rowe raised the issue of Budimirovic’s relationship with Hockett, which by then had been ongoing for some time.

“Ethel had indicated that Alexsander had been asking to borrow money from her,” Rowe said. “I indicated to him that I was concerned about what might be his relationship with Ethel.”

Rowe said Budimirovic responded by producing a copy of a certificate indicating Hockett had purchased $140,000 worth of shares in his construction company.

“I questioned him as to where Ethel could possibly have got that kind of money. I kept the (certificate) in my file and eventually turned (it) over to the police,” Rowe said. “I persuaded Ethel that she needed to talk to the police.”

That same month Christine Carr, a friend who had known Hockett all her life, accompanied the senior to her bank. They were stunned by what they discovered.

“I learned she had a large mortgage that had been taken on her house,” Carr would later say.

“She was completely shocked,” Carr said of Hockett. “She had no idea that amount of money was owing, and that it was tied to her house.”

Franssen’s investigation revealed that Budimirovic had joined with Harold Alan Stewart, a retired Presbyterian minister from Prince Edward Island, in defrauding Hockett, convincing her to take out a six-figure line of credit, using her home as security, and write a sizable cheque – in the amount of $138,500 -- to Stewart. The men told Hockett they wished to establish a therapy centre for men with substance abuse issues. The money, evidence heard at trial, went into Stewart’s personal bank account (in fact, the first cheque Hockett wrote bounced, so she was instructed to write another).

Police also learned Budimirovic had coaxed Hockett into giving him access to her credit card. Court heard conversations, taped by the bank involved, during which Hockett asked staff to increase the limit on the card, as Budimirovic stood nearby and instructed her.

Hockett was not the first senior targeted by Budimirovic. Nearly 10 years before Hockett’s friends in Oshawa were becoming concerned about her dealings with him, Budimirovic had engaged in similar behaviour, according to court records.

The allegations in the documents provide insight into a chilling template employed by Budimirovic – befriending a vulnerable widow, gaining her trust, and then convincing her to sign over title to her home.

According to the court records Budimirovic was sued in 2009 by a company that had insured two mortgages, valued at more than $400,000, taken out on a property in Toronto. The company, Stewart Title Guaranty, had insured the mortgages and paid out the initial lenders, according to a statement of claim.

The claim alleges that in the spring of 2006 Budimirovic was hired to do kitchen renovations for Anne Yovan Hoben, an 82-year-old widow who lived alone in the Johnston Avenue house she’d owned since the late 1960s. Budimirovic befriended Hoben, who at the time had been declared cognitively impaired by doctors, according to the claim.

By July of 2006 Hoben had transferred the title of her property to herself and Budimirovic, according to the claim. By the end of that summer Budimirovic had obtained two mortgages valued at more than $400,000 on the property.

The developments were the result of a calculated scam that targeted a vulnerable senior, Stewart Title alleged.

“Simply put, Budimirovic took advantage of Mrs. Hoben’s cognitive impairment and had her transfer title of the property and further encumber title to the property for his own personal gain and interests,” the lawsuit claimed.

The claim was decided in the company’s favour in Superior Court, and Budimirovic was ordered to pay Stewart Guaranty more than $446,000. An earlier judgment, issued by the Superior Court in 2010, rendered the transfer granting Budimirovic title to Hoben’s property void.

None of this was evidence at the trial of Budimirovic and his co-accused in Oshawa in the fall of 2018. But a jury convicted all three of crimes perpetrated against Hockett, finding Budimirovic guilty of every charge he faced.

Stewart was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Budimirovic, who had already amassed a lengthy criminal record, was sentenced to six years in prison. Budimirovic’s wife, Ashley Carlson, was convicted of improper use of Hockett’s credit card and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

By the time those accused of the frauds went to trial, Hockett, who had been showing signs of cognitive deterioration when her friends first raised the alarm, was in a retirement home with dementia. She died in February of 2019.

Hockett’s final lucid days were overshadowed by anxiety and confusion, according to her longtime friend Christine Carr.

“Ethel’s late 80s and 90s years were fraught with worry,” a tearful Carr said during a sentencing hearing at the Oshawa courthouse in March of 2019.

“The home Ethel and (her late husband) Fred bought was in the process of repossession by the bank for mortgage arrears,” Carr said. “She feared being homeless and on the street.”

What happened to Hockett is all too common among seniors, who can be easy marks for scammers because of their tendency to trust and seek friendship with others, said Franssen, a season fraud investigator. Franssen noted that it’s not uncommon for seniors who have been victimized to go into rapid mental and physical decline once they realize they’ve been defrauded.

“This affects people,” he said. “It becomes an issue of depression and mental health. The victimization continues.”

Franssen noted that federal privacy laws have been amended to allow workers at financial institutions to air concerns they have about vulnerable people being taken advantage of – and that many banks now have a policy of doing so.

“It can be an internal investigation. It can be a call to the police,” he said. “There have been financial institutions that have done it multiple times and saved thousands and thousands of dollars from being lost by vulnerable people.”

Franssen said it’s up to all of us to look out for the welfare of vulnerable people, and to take action when we suspect something is not right.

“What I call it is, step in and step up,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to protect people,” he said.

If you suspect someone is a target of fraud, call your local police service. Durham police can be reached at 905-579-1520.