NEW YORK – A septuagenarian businessman gave a 98-year-old lawyer office space and then used the favor to gain access to his financial records and loot his bank accounts, prosecutors said Friday.
Harry Abrams, 76, told an employee he'd never accept rent from attorney Emanuel Baetich because he viewed the nonagenarian lawyer "like a father" — but then he rifled through Baetich's unlocked office to glean his financial information and drain $330,000 from his accounts, the Manhattan district attorney's office said.
Abrams pleaded not guilty Friday to grand larceny and other charges. He and his lawyer declined to comment on the allegations.
The semiretired Baetich, a lawyer since 1935, used a wheelchair but still handled mostly trusts and estates cases out of an office in Abrams' midtown Manhattan suite as of last year, prosecutors said. Baetich and Abrams, who offers financial advice to corporations, had been friends for years after meeting through business, they said.
Baetich has been hospitalized and then in a nursing home since he broke his hip in July 2009. Meanwhile, prosecutors said, his old friend emptied several of his bank accounts and used the money to finance his businesses, including paying for such "business" expenses as a dieting program, purchases from outdoorsy clothing retailer Land's End and a trip to Puerto Rico for him and his wife.
Banks ultimately became concerned about the activity in Baetich's accounts and alerted authorities, assistant district attorney Elizabeth Loewy said.
"(Baetich) is completely devastated," she said.
Hours before prosecutors unveiled their case against Abrams, a Manhattan woman admitted taking thousands of dollars from a man she married after he became brain-damaged and from a demented 89-year-old she befriended.
Cher Thompson cried and whispered answers to a judge's questions as she pleaded guilty Friday to grand larceny, scheming to defraud and other charges. She's been promised 3 1/2 to seven years in prison at her sentencing, set for Dec. 21.
The 28-year-old Thompson admitted helping herself to more than $50,000 from the bank accounts of the 63-year-old man she married in 2008, after he'd been brain-damaged in a car crash. She didn't have authority over the accounts.
She also acknowledged taking more than $50,000 from the accounts of an 89-year-old man, in part by claiming to be his niece. She said she used the money to finance a fashion venture.
Manhattan elder-abuse prosecutors bring more than 500 cases a year, most of them involving allegations of financial crimes, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.