- By Olivia Hitchcock
- Elliott Wenzler Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
After nearly a year of fishy transactions — trips to Haiti, calls from jail, money transfers — popping up on a suburban Boca Raton woman’s account, bank authorities contacted the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
The cardholder, an 87-year-old woman who suffered from physical and mental disabilities, insisted nothing was wrong and was adamant that if something were, her caregiver, Sodena Annestant, wouldn’t be to blame.
A 50-page arrest report from the 2016 investigation details months of everyday transactions that Annestant is accused of making on her patient’s dime. The patient’s son estimated Annestant took $40,000 from his mother from August 2015 through April 2016.
Annestant was arrested Wednesday afternoon on theft and exploitation charges that were filed against her in July. She was released Thursday from the Palm Beach County Jail on a $10,000 surety bond.
The 34-year-old Boynton Beach resident insisted the woman knew about the transactions, although doctors claimed the woman couldn’t even remember whether she’d eaten on any given day.
The woman was vulnerable, a sheriff’s detective wrote, and Annestant had exploited her of tens of thousands of dollars.
The woman hadn’t seen her son, who lived out of state, in years. Her elderly boyfriend had died. Annestant was all she had left, the woman told detectives last year.
After five years of spending 11-hour days with the caregiver with Dimi Nursing based out of Boynton Beach, they’d become like family.
She initially refused to speak with authorities about the allegations against Annestant because she was so sure the woman wouldn’t have stolen from her.
Annestant told detectives the woman helped her financially after Annestant’s husband lost his job. But she claimed she’d paid the woman back. Nothing in the stacks of bank records PBSO detectives studied indicated she had.
Annestant said she didn’t have a credit card, so she would use her patient’s to make online purchases, such as American Airline tickets to Haiti.
When Annestant’s electricity was about to be shut off, the woman pitched in some money. She also helped with Annestant’s phone, cable and car insurance bills, Annestant said, telling investigators, “It’s not like she didn’t know when she’s helping me.”
Dimi Nursing’s policies specifically forbid employees from taking gifts or borrowing money from patients. Annestant had signed that policy years ago. She told detectives she hadn’t read what she’d signed.
Months of spending
After the woman’s bank contacted her son, he flew from out of state to Florida to get a better grasp for the supposed financial fraud to which his mother had been subjected.
He created spreadsheets of transactions on his mother’s accounts since 2015. Starting in August of that year, the transactions jumped to $4,000 per month from about $400, he said.
A months-long sheriff’s office investigation determined the woman’s money repeatedly had been used for purchases at Wal-Mart, Family Dollar, Macy’s, a beauty supply store and gas stations. Hundreds more had been spent on food from Pollo Tropical, Wendy’s and Boston Market, authorities learned.
When a detective asked Annestant for whom she’d bought the food, Annestant claimed it was for the woman. But when asked what the woman liked to eat, Annestant couldn’t answer.
Nor could she explain why men’s cologne, diapers and baby food had been purchased with the woman’s money. Or why the woman’s money had gone toward Annestant’s rent.
She reportedly took multiple calls from her brother in jail and charged them to the woman’s card.
Thousands of dollars were sent to someone in Haiti from the woman’s account, and at least four trips from Fort Lauderdale to Haiti and back were charged to the woman’s card.
Annestant insisted she hadn’t exploited the woman.
When Annestant started caring for the woman in 2011, she helped with day-to-day activities around the house.
By 2015, though, doctors noted signs of memory loss in the woman, and when her boyfriend died later that year, the woman’s mental and physical disabilities took a turn for the worse.
Annestant’s caregiver duties, in theory, should have become more encompassing at this point. Notes from doctors’ visits in early 2015 indicate the woman was frustrated with Annestant as a caregiver. She told the doctor Annestant was bossy and showed up to work late, if she showed up at all. It does not appear the woman shared her complaints with the nursing company.
Doctors noted the woman wasn’t having her prescriptions filled, and a Florida Department of Children and Families investigator noticed signs of neglect: The woman “always” smelled like urine, wasn’t groomed and wore dirty clothes.
Annestant had not been providing the appropriate care for the woman, the investigator concluded in May 2016 after the sheriff’s office requested an assessment.
A sheriff’s detective tried to speak with the woman in July 2016 about the fraudulent charges on her bank accounts. The woman “immediately became upset” and told authorities she just want to be left alone. Most of the detective’s questions about everything from the woman’s address to the name of her new caregiver confused the woman.
The detective’s report concluded: “There is no doubt that Annestant … utilized her position/employment to financially exploit” the woman.