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Published: Tuesday, 8/26/2008

Woman ordered to prison for elder theft

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For more than a decade, Wendy Hakeos was employed to keep an eye on her elderly employer, charged with the task of managing the older woman's personal finances.

Yesterday, the Temperance woman was sentenced by a federal judge to 18 months in prison and three years supervised release, and ordered to pay $175,000 - money that she was found guilty of stealing from Nancy McPherson the widow of Rene "Ren" McPherson, a former Dana chief executive officer.

Hakeos, 52, of 1054 Birchwood Drive, pleaded guilty March 12 in U.S. District Court in Toledo to one count each of identity fraud and filing false tax returns.

As part of Hakeos' restitution, Judge James Carr also ordered her to pay $49,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Authorities said that Mrs. McPherson, who died in 2005 at age 80, was in failing health and rarely left her home, relying on Hakeos to manage her affairs.

Instead, the younger woman opened credit cards in Mrs. McPherson's name and charged thousands of dollars to the elderly woman's accounts as well as wrote unauthorized checks to herself.

In a victim impact statement provided to Judge Carr, Mrs. McPherson's son, Douglas, outlined how Hakeos had once been a trusted employee, hired by the family because her mother had worked as Mr. McPherson's personal secretary.

When Hakeos' mother retired, the daughter was hired as Mr. McPherson's personal secretary. She stayed on after Mr. McPherson's death in 1996 to help manage his widow's finances.

"Ms. Hakeos is one of the worst kinds of predator," Douglas McPherson wrote in the victim impact statement. "She used her position of trust to steal the identity and money of a sick, elderly woman."

Mr. McPherson and his sister, Laurie Verslype, were in federal court yesterday but declined to speak after the sentencing.

At the plea hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Uram explained that Hakeos covered up her thefts from her employer by moving funds from the McPherson investment accounts into the checking account from which she was taking money.

The charge of filing false tax returns was a result of her not reporting the money she stole as income on her tax reports.

Hakeos yesterday apologized for her behavior. She guaranteed that she would "never do anything like that again," adding that she wished the elderly woman was still alive "so I can say sorry to her."

Defense attorney Mark Weinberg noted that his client did not have a prior criminal record and that she took the money because she had a business going under. "Sometimes people do things that they normally wouldn't do," he said.

The family began investigating the situation a few years ago when Mrs. McPherson received a statement from a credit card company saying she had an outstanding balance of $20,000 - a credit card for which she had not applied.

The family hired a forensic accountant who discovered $310,783.26 in misappropriated funds.

Yesterday, Mr. Uram said that $175,000 was the negotiated dollar amount lost because there was some discrepancy about whether some of the money that made up the larger number was in fact loans or compensation for work. Mr. Uram added that the accountant's report was "the jumping-off point for our investigation."

Mrs. McPherson was well-known for opening her home to visitors and hosting social functions.

Her husband joined Dana as a sales engineer and became president in 1968 and chairman in 1972. He was inducted into the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame in 2007.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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