The actions of a plumber who stole almost $300,000 from an elderly widow suffering from dementia, the vast majority of which has never been repaid, have been labelled “reprehensible”.
On Tuesday (19 April), the ACT Supreme Court heard the woman, now aged in her 90s, had been left in “shock and bewilderment” at having been “cheated” by 33-year-old James Lawrence Michael Raftery.
Court documents say the woman lived alone after the death of her husband, had suffered from memory loss since 2019 and in the middle of that year had $1 million in a bank account.
But only $50,000 remained less than a year later.
Raftery began doing plumbing work and handyman jobs around her home. Between 2019 and 2020, he obtained $413,000 from her, with $292,000 of that total amount being obtained dishonestly via 18 transactions.
When her cousin visited her in 2020, they became aware of suspicious transactions in her bank account. She was shocked she was missing such large amounts of money and couldn’t remember giving it to anyone.
When police interviewed Raftery, he claimed a large percentage of the money was for “his time” as he had spent time talking to her, helping her with tasks and they had become friendly.
He also claimed while he knew the amount she paid was excessive, she dismissed his protests.
Raftery said he spent the money, including $100,000 on gambling, but had returned $20,000.
Also, the woman’s IT contactor, a now-28-year-old South Korean man called Byung Uk Cho and known as Kevin Cho, began helping her in 2019 and transferred over $360,000 of her money to his own account.
Mr Cho later repaid her in full and there was no known link between him and Raftery.
Legal Aid’s Dr Jan de Bruin said there was no evidence to suggest Raftery had deceived his victim and he could not answer why she had transferred the money to his client.
However, Justice Michael Elkaim disagreed, saying there must have been a deception in order to transfer the funds to his account and described Raftery’s actions as “reprehensible”.
He also noted Raftery’s heart only functioned at 25 per cent and Raftery’s mother had reported a cardiologist had told him if he continued to take drugs he would die.
But Justice Elkaim said Raftery had been taking drugs again more recently and seemed to have the attitude that drugs were acceptable despite the risk of early death.
Crown Prosecutor Rebecca Christensen said the crimes warranted a “stern” period of actual imprisonment and there was nothing to suggest the Alexander Maconochie Centre couldn’t provide him with adequate care for his medical condition.
Justice Elkaim agreed but said he would make the prison sentence as short as possible.
Raftery pleaded guilty to theft and was sentenced to about 13 months’ jail to be suspended after he served four if he signed a two-year good behaviour order. He will be eligible to be released in August 2022.