Florida woman accused of defrauding 99-year-old out of nearly $600K

DESTIN, Fla. — A Florida woman is accused of defrauding a 99-year-old woman out of nearly $600,000 to use on vacations and bills, authorities said.

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Sheena Marie Russell, 45, of Navarre, was arrested Wednesday and charged with theft over $100,000, organized scheme to defraud more than $50,000 and elderly exploitation, according to a news release from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and online booking records.

The alleged thefts, which were made between March 30, 2020, and Sept. 22, 2021, totaled at least $582,647, the sheriff’s office said.

Russell reportedly knew the victim and her late husband for several of years and had served them as a waitress at a Fort Walton Beach restaurant, the Northwest Florida Daily News reported. She started doing errands for the victim after her husband passed away, according to the sheriff’s office.

In the first transaction in March 2020, Russell allegedly transferred $5,000 from the victim’s trust accounts into her own bank account, according to the newspaper.

Investigator Mike Kruger reported at least 20 wire transfers, with individual transfers as high as $70,000, the Daily News reported.

Russell used funds from the victim to help pay off her mortgage, buy a vehicle and fund trips to Walt Disney World, Pigeon Forge Tennessee, the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, Washington, D.C. and a ski trip to Utah, according to the sheriff’s office.

According to the arrest report, the approximate amount for these purchases was $132,543.

“It’s very sad because these elderly people are being taken advantage of,” Kruger told WEAR-TV.

“Other expenses were for personal day-to-day purchases which included shopping and restaurants,” the arrest report stated.

The brother of the victim contacted investigators after the woman moved into a senior living home, WKRG-TV reported. The man, who lives outside of Florida, became responsible for his sister’s financial accounts and noticed large cash transfers to Russell, according to the television station.

According to the sheriff’s office, Russell claimed she and the victim had a joint business venture. However, the victim told authorities she did not authorize Russell to withdraw money from any of her accounts.

Kruger said this type of fraud was not an isolated case.

“Really we saw a big uptick [of elderly exploitation] during COVID,” Kruger told WEAR. “I think a lot of that had to do with people being stuck at home, unable to talk to other people. And a lot of the elderly people that don’t have any other relationships, these people calling them over the phone become a friend, they become a family member.”

Russell was booked into Okaloosa County Jail and later released after posting $60,000 bail, the television station reported.