Heidi Royal, who was employed as an accountant at an Atlanta-based wealth management firm, has pleaded guilty to federal charges arising from a scheme to defraud one of the firm's [elderly] clients.
“Royal exploited the trust placed in her by an elderly client who was unable to manage her own affairs,” said U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “Our office continues to prosecute anyone who targets vulnerable members of the community, especially the elderly.” Elder and Financial abuse is very common.
“It is very disheartening that Royal manipulated a vulnerable victim and stole much of her hard-earned savings after claiming to be a close friend that was supposed to have her best interests in mind,” said Philip Wislar, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI will always make it a priority to protect senior citizens from exploitation.”
A February 14 press release from that US Department of Justice entitled “Accountant pleads guilty to embezzling $800,000 from elderly client” states that Royal's employer was registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as an investment adviser. The firm provided investment advice and financial services to C.K., an elderly widow suffering from dementia.
As the firm's Accounting Manager and Bill-Pay Supervisor, Ms. Royal had access to the victim's Social Security Number and the usernames and passwords for her investment accounts and bank accounts. As part of her duties and responsibilities at the firm, Royal provided professional accounting services and bill-pay services to C.K. for more than 10 years. During that time, Royal gained C.K.'s trust and developed a close personal friendship with her. She even told a co-worker at the firm that C.K. was like a grandmother to her.
As a person associated with an investment adviser, Royal owed a fiduciary duty to each of the firm's clients, including the elderly victim. Royal was, therefore, required to act in C.K.'s best interests at all times. Over the 10 years, Royal misappropriated approximately $800,000 of C.K.'s money and converted it to her own use.
As part of the scheme, Royal stole C.K.'s annuity payments, wrote more than 200 fraudulent checks on C.K.'s bank accounts, forged the lady's endorsement on checks, withdrew cash from her bank accounts and converted it to her own use. She also fraudulently used the electronic bill-pay feature on C.K.'s bank accounts to divert money to herself. She also used PayPal to make payments to herself from C.K.'s bank accounts and impersonated the victim in phone calls with financial institutions. Finally, she made false and misleading entries in C.K.'s financial records to make the fraud harder to detect.
When the firm learned that checks drawn on C.K.'s bank accounts had been deposited into Royal's personal accounts in March 2021, the firm immediately fired Royal and reported the matter to law enforcement. Financial Abuse of Seniors is more common than you would think.
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Reference: US Department of Justice (Feb. 14, 2022) “Accountant pleads guilty to embezzling $800,000 from elderly client”