A judge found a Strongsville woman guilty of felony theft charges Thursday after she was accused of swindling an elderly war veteran out of tens of thousands of dollars before his death earlier this year.
Latasha Wisniewski, 38, used the false promise of romance to gain the trust of Charles Bauer, an 89-year-old Korean War veteran and widower, then looted much of his life’s savings in a matter of months, prosecutors said.
Common Pleas Court Judge Shannon Gallagher on Tuesday found Wisniewski guilty of two counts of theft from an elderly person, which could land her behind bars for more than a dozen years.
Wisniewski and her boyfriend, Daniel Scholz, are also charged with additional felony charges of misuse of credit cards in a separate case. Gallagher will impose her sentence on the theft charges against Wisniewski after that case is settled.
Wisniewski’s attorney, Marcus Sidoti, declined to comment on the case.
Wisniewski’s conviction was based in part on the testimony of her aunt, 39-year-old Lisa Dotson. The two were charged in connection with this case in October. Dotson was a home health aide charged in a separate case that accused her stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from elderly and disabled clients. She pleaded guilty to charges in both cases in August and agreed to take the stand during Wisniewski’s trial.
Dotson also faces a maximum sentence of more than 12 years in prison.
The scheme that played out from late summer 2017 through September 2018 is told in both civil and criminal filings in two Cuyahoga County courthouses.
Bauer, a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War and longtime Lake County resident, was the first 50-year employee at Bailey Controls in Wickliffe, and missed just five days of work in his career, according to his obituary. He was a 48-year member of the Erieside Church on the Boulevard in Willowick.
He battled depression in 2017 after the death of his longtime wife and began attending support meetings. That’s where he met Wisniewski, 50 years his junior, who befriended him and convinced him that she was in love with him and wanted to marry him, according to court records.
Bauer’s family, and prosecutors, say in court records that Wisniewski was preying on a vulnerable, heartbroken man with modest wealth whose health was declining.
She moved into Bauer’s Parma Heights bungalow and convinced him within months of his wife’s death to withdraw thousands of dollars from his bank accounts at give it to Wisniewski, records say. She bought herself jewelry and furniture for the house, records say. She then used his information to open joint bank accounts in both of their names, and transferred money from his savings account into the accounts, the records say. In a period of eight months, Wisniewski opened and closed eight different bank accounts in their names, prosecutors say.
Wisniewski pretended to be Bauer’s granddaughter to access his accounts. She also recruited Dotson to help her carry out the fraud on Bauer, records say. The two used another elderly man to pose as Bauer in phone calls to banks to liquidate his assets, according to court records.
When Bauer’s adult children questioned his relationship with Wisniewski, she manipulated him into distrusting his children and turned him against them, records say.
She convinced Bauer to sign a quitclaim deed adding her name to the deed on his home, then took out a $30,000 loan against the home in December 2017, according to court records. In August 2018, she took out a $4,000 loan with a 400-percent interest rate against Bauer’s 2012 GMC SUV, according to court records.
By that time, Bauer had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and elected to forego treatment, records say. His family on Sept. 1, 2018 confronted Wisniewski, who signed a handwritten agreement on notebook paper agreeing to return all of Bauer’s property by the day’s end, records say.
Three days later, on Sept. 4, 2018, Wisniewski and Scholz applied for a marriage certificate, according to Cuyahoga County Probate Court records.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors obtained an indictment charging both Wisniewski and Dotson in November 2018.
Bauer died on Feb. 3, 2019, his obituary says.
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