A financial adviser at one of the nation’s top banks is accused of exploiting her fiduciary duties to a senior citizen suffering from dementia. Officials have filed a lawsuit to be reimbursed nearly half a million dollars, monies allegedly pilfered from her account, and damages for the crime.
The lawsuit filed by the Cook County public guardian’s office in a probate court stated Helen Caldwell, a former Citibank financial adviser, swindled Priscilla Eddings out of $400,500 over the course of two years, funneling the money into her film company, NBC 5 Reports.
The Alleged Swindle
According to Charles Golbert, the county’s Public Guardian, Eddings, a 76-year-old retired nursing assistant, had come to Caldwell in 2017 to help her manage her estate after she stopped working. However, the banker exploited the woman’s oncoming mental decline after she moved into assisted living and got her to write checks to Caldwell’s own enterprise, totaling almost half of her savings and estate.
Checks to Canal Productions as “high as $75,000”, registered to Caldwell, were all signed by the senior citizen.
According to its Facebook page, Canal Productions makes short and feature-length films. The company also allegedly finances and produces documentaries.
The production company’s IMDB lists one of the last movies they put out was called “Give Till it Hurts,” a “dark comedy set in the ’80s about two brothers seeking the return of their inheritance that their deceased mother donated to a televangelist.”
One of the lines said by one of the brothers in the movie says, “It’s about mom’s estate. It’s all gone … The money. The house. It’s all been taken from her by a conman.”
This movie is soon to be released.
When Golbert heard to the plot of the movie, one that his ward most likely produced, he had only one word: “Wow.”
The lawsuit alleges the longtime resident of Hyde Park and Bronzeville “did not have the cognitive capacity” to understand she was writing checks to her adviser’s company. She was also unaware of how fast the monies she had saved up for at least 50 years, mostly from working at St. Joseph Hospital on the North Side, were dwindling.
“It’s outrageous. [Caldwell] had a fiduciary duty to Ms. Eddings, who did not receive any benefit whatsoever from the checks she wrote to Canal Productions,” Golbert said.
The inappropriate financial transactions were discovered when Eddings’ granddaughter attempted to obtain legal guardianship over the woman as her health was declining. This sparked the courts to appoint an investigator to review Eddings’ financial records, which revealed the deception.
The granddaughter was not granted guardianship, and the county gave it to Golbert, who blamed the banker and the bank, asking, “Where’s the oversight by her employer at the time, Citibank?”
The lawsuit requested the court to force Caldwell and Citibank to relinquish all information regarding Eddings’ assets. It’s the first step to getting the money, Golbert said.
“The money that went to Caldwell is what Eddings is supposed to live off of during the years she has left,” Golbert said.
A criminal process may be on the way also. Golbert said, “We’re working closely with appropriate law enforcement.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken special care about helping to safeguard seniors from financial exploitation and ruin that comes from ignorance. In March of 2016, the bureau published recommendations and a report for financial institutions on preventing and responding to elder financial exploitation.
How to Protect Yourself and Family From Rogue Advisers
Check out financial advisers before hiring. There are online databases consumers can check out background information on specific individuals and firms. There’s the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website, for financial advisors. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s resource, BrokerCheck, lists brokers. If the advisEr is not lister on either, it could be a major red flag.
“If they’re not, that’s the uber red flag,” Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago-based attorney who represents consumers in fraud cases, told CNBC. “If not, it could be some guy cold-calling from his mom’s basement.”
Google the adviser’s name and firm. If there have been lawsuits or major complaints, they should pop up in the search.
“It’s the cockroach theory: If you have one or two complaints, there are likely dozens of other times the advisor has engaged in chicanery but hasn’t gotten caught,” Stoltmann said.
Make sure everything is in writing, including all fees and commissions. Forbes recommends asking: Do they charge separately for money management? Do mutual funds they recommend contain charges that they will receive?
What to do if Swindled
The Commodity Futures Trade Commission advises that if you have been a victim of fraud, report it to the police and your district attorney. File a police report if you plan to file an insurance claim for fraud losses. And, contact your state financial regulator or attorney general.