OAKLAND – A criminal complaint unsealed Monday in federal court alleges that an Alameda home health aide defrauded an elderly Moraga couple of $360,000 – money she allegedly used for cosmetic surgery, cars, and expensive care packages for her dog.
Federal prosecutors charged Heidi Suzanne Miller of Alameda with credit card fraud in the alleged scheme, accusing her of abusing her role as a home health care aide to use the credit cards and take over the financial accounts of an elderly Moraga couple in her care.
United States Attorney David L. Anderson and Federal Bureau Investigation Special Agent in Charge John L. Bennett brought the case against Miller to court Monday.
“Older Americans are at great risk from fraudsters,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson. “It is a priority of my Office to identify and prosecute individuals who take advantage of the elderly. In this matter, the exploitation of an elderly couple was even more shameful because the defendant had been hired to help the couple, not harm them.”
“It is particularly disturbing that someone who came into this elderly couple’s home as a caregiver, instead capitalized on the couple’s vulnerability for her own greed,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bennett. “The FBI and our partners will continue to work every day to protect our elderly neighbors from fraud and abuse.”
According to the criminal complaint, in 2016, the son of an elderly Moraga, California couple hired Miller to care for his parents because they were suffering from early onset dementia. Within three days of beginning her employment, Miller allegedly began using the couple’s credit cards for her personal benefit. The complaint describes how Miller used checks and credit cards during the next three years to steal over $360,000 from the couple.
Miller used the money, prosecutors say, to pay her living expenses and to maintain her lifestyle by, among other things, buying cars, clothing, and jewelry; taking a cruise and a trip to Disneyland; and caring for her family pets, including purchasing a “14-day dream dog package.”
The couple’s son discovered the fraud in 2019 after Miller’s employment ended.
Also included in the list of alleged improper purchases attributed to Miller were breast augmentation and liposuction procedures, prosecutors allege. According to the criminal complaint, Miller obtained the plastic surgery and related procedures in January 2018 and paid for them using three credit cards issued to the elderly couple. Miller allegedly paid over $15,000 toward the approximately $26,000 cost of the plastic surgery procedures using the couple’s credit cards. As with the other instances of alleged fraud, the procedures came to light after Miller’s employment with the family had ended.
Miller is charged with credit card fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(5).
A criminal complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and Miller is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted of the charge, Miller faces a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, up to three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000, and restitution. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Miller made her initial appearance before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero, who ordered Miller released on a $100,000 bond and subjected to certain travel restrictions during the pendency of the case. Miller’s next court appearance is set for November 18, 2020, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, for a status hearing.
The Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Moraga Police Department, and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.