Housekeeper charged with bilking elderly boss

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A housekeeper allegedly stole more than $430,000 from her 93-year-old Forest Hills employer before trying to swindle an incapacitated retired police officer out of his co-op apartment, the Queens district attorney said last Thursday.

The elderly woman, Edna Livingston, had no money left to pay her bills and was forced to sell her house and move into a nursing home, according to Manhattan attorney Herzl Eisenstadt, her court-appointed guardian.

The 56-year-old suspect, Joan S. Miller, whose real name is Susan Wong, was charged with grand larceny in the alleged crime against Livingston and forgery for the alleged attempt to sell former police officer Dennis McGowan’s home, Queens DA Richard Brown said.

If found guilty, she faces up to 15 years in prison.

“The defendant is accused of perpetrating one of the most despicable crimes that can be committed — stealing from the elderly and infirm,” Brown said.

Eisenstadt said Livingston is “a very sweet and charming person with a good sense of humor who somebody exploited.”

An accomplished artist with a degree from Parsons School of Design, Livingston lived alone from 1974, when her husband died, until meeting Miller at a food fair in 1997.

The DA said Miller moved in with Livingston at 100-13 75th Ave. in 1997 and agreed to perform housekeeping duties in exchange for $60 a week and room and board.

Eisenstadt alleged Miller then systematically conned Livingston out of all she owned, emptying her savings and stock accounts, selling her furniture and jewelry and putting a reverse mortgage of almost $200,000 out on her home.

According to the criminal complaint, from January 1998 to January 2000, Miller wrote 96 checks totaling $286,819 on the victim’s Chase Manhattan Bank account and made 159 debit-card withdrawals amounting to $57,647. An additional $91,710 was stolen from another account, the DA said.

“The woman had no idea this was being done,” said Eisenstadt. “She trusted her so much. If Miller put a check in front of her, she signed it.”

In 1998, Miller reported more than $200,000 in gambling debts on her tax return. Eisenstadt said that these debts were incurred on frequent trips to Atlantic City and to Uncasville, Conn.

Eisenstadt, who evaluated the situation for the courts before becoming Livingston’s guardian, said he discovered that Miller had also accrued significant debt in the elderly woman’s name. In addition to the accumulating mortgage, Miller owed money to Con Edison and Chase Manhattan, he said.

With her bank accounts depleted, Livingston was forced to sell her house and go into an undisclosed nursing home.

“She had no money left to pay other bills,” said Eisenstadt. “There were no two ways about it. The house had to be sold.”

Miller then moved into McGowan’s co-op on 112th Street in Forest Hills beginning in July 2000. The retired police officer, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, agreed to pay her $100 a week to cook and do light chores, the district attorney said.

After being alerted to the charges against Livingston last year by neighbors who saw Miller taking limousines and removing furniture from the house, the DA’s office said investigators traced the defendant to McGowan’s apartment.

Armed with a search warrant, the DA’s investigators found in the co-op a power-of-attorney document allegedly forged by Miller, the complaint said. After speaking with the building’s management agency, the investigators confirmed that Miller had put the apartment up for sale.

“The fact that a seasoned cop was taken in by this woman shows that no matter how savvy you may be, you can still be conned,” said Eisenstadt.

Miller was arraigned Aug. 1 before Queens Criminal Court Judge Barry Kron and was being held in lieu of $175,000 cash bail.

Her attorney, Robert E. Sparrow, said “there was a trusting, favorable relationship between the parties and there was no criminality or theft involved.”

He read a letter in court, which he said was written by Livingston, that described a close relationship between the elderly woman and her housekeeper.

“She indicated that there was a daughter-mother relationship between them, that she loved her as her own daughter and she wanted to share everything she owned with her,” said Sparrow.

Eisenstadt said that the letters do not prove the defendant’s innocence.

“Joan Miller wrote those notes and had Edna copy them,” he said. “I saw the drafts. She has one note that says their parents were friends. She didn’t know this woman before the summer of ’97.”

Reach Daniel Massey by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:17 pm, October 10, 2011
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