Saturday, February 09, 2008

Polish Couple accept plea deal for taking $260,000 from woman, 93, the left in Poland

A Palm Beach couple accused of defrauding their 94-year-old neighbor and abandoning her in a nursing home in Poland will pay her $260,000 in restitution, WPBF News 25 reported.

In return, three felony charges against Aron Bell, 80, and Henryka Bell, 59, will be dropped. That is if they violate no laws within the next 18 months and have no contact with their neighbor, Janina "Nina" Zaniewska. The felony charges included grand theft from a person age 65 older.

Authorities said the Bells befriended 94-year-old Zaniewska and "systematically took over every aspect of her life," including redirecting phone calls and mail meant for her to themselves, according to a police report.

Police said the three lived in a condominium at 44 Coconut Row in Palm Beach, where they originally met and where the Bells began taking control of Zaniewska's finances.

According to the report, a bank manager told police that Henryka Bell brought Zaniewska to her office in April 2007 in order to open up an account in which the Bells would have access to. The bank manager told police that Zaniewska had been in her office two weeks before to open an account and had seemed fine, but when the 94-year-old came with Bell, she was confined to a wheelchair and seemed confused.

Investigators told WPBF that Henryka Bell demanded to have Zaniewska's Social Security payments redirected into the shared account. The bank manager said that she had refused to make the change, but that she later discovered that the couple had somehow been able to make the transaction anyway, according to the report.

Authorities said that Zaniewska had previously approached bank tellers in the bank and asked them not to give her money to the Bells, but while the couple was with the 94-year-old, they would not let her speak and kept her in a wheelchair.

According to the report, the Bells took Zaniewska to Poland on May 17, 2007, and returned without the 94-year-old on June 2. Police said that, with the help of the Polish-American Society Club in Lake Worth, officials located Zaniewska at a nursing home in a remote town in Poland. According to police, a detective called the nursing home and talked to Zaniewska, who told the officer, "Thank God, you found me."

Police said Zaniewska told the investigator that she had been tricked by the Bells and was placed in an "old lady home" against her will. Zaniewska told police that she believed the Bells were stealing her money and that she had thought that she was going on vacation to Poland and did not know she was going to be placed in a nursing home, Captain Elmer Gudger with the Palm Beach Police said.

"In the phone call that we made to her, when she realized it was the police department, she thanked us very much for finding her and made a comment that she thought she was going to die over there in the nursing home," Gudger told WPBF.

Gudger said that the Bells had withdrawn about $260,000 out of Zaniewska's bank accounts and were using the money to pay their own bills.

Authorities said they were able to bring Zaniewska back to Palm Beach after she had been in Poland for about four months.

The Bells' defense attorney said his clients are innocent and that they were holding Zaniewska's money while acting as her caretakers.

Aron Bell grew up in Poland during World War II and survived the Holocaust by living in the woods after his parents were taken by the Nazis at the age of 11. The story of how Bell and his brothers helped save thousands of fellow Jews is the subject of the 1994 book, "Defiance: The Bielski Partisans," by Nechama Tec. A movie based on the book is currently in production, slated to star current James Bond actor Daniel Craig, WPBF reported.