Toccoa, GA -- This is a story that may hit close to home for a lot of you, especially for anyone dealing with an aging parent.
While trying to help them maintain their dignity and independence, sometimes your worst fears could come true. It did for Lynn Chandley.
"This was not someone the family knew. This was not a family friend! This was a stranger to our family," Lynn Chandley exclaimed angrily, as she described the woman who, she claims, took advantage of her ailing father.
In 2011, Lynn's father, Donn Henson, passed away, just shy of his 83rd birthday. However, the family's struggle continued because of one woman - Deborah Martin, of Royston, Ga.
"She stumbled upon him at a restaurant she was working at in Toccoa," Chandley explained.
That was in 2006. Martin was 38 and Donn Henson was in his late 70's. Around that same time, he'd been diagnosed with dementia, most probably due to Alzheimer's disease.
"And it was fairly easy to put a target on his back, little man, slow, hard of hearing, comes in, has a barbecue sandwich by himself," Chandley explained.
That's when Chandley says Deborah Martin pounced and took advantage of the situation. Over the course of two and a half years unbeknownst to the family, Martin was making regular visits to see Donn Henson. However, it wasn't until his family was transitioning him to an assisted care facility that they noticed irregularities with his bank statements.
"All these thousands of dollars that had been debited out of his account and the one thing we kept finding was the name Deborah Martin on some checks made to cash."
The family stepped in and put an end to the relationship and hired attorneys Tim Healy and Justin Berelc.
"I call it the Sweetheart Swindler case but it's the Sweetheart Swindle," Healy said. He and his co-counsel spent the next 4 years putting together a case and putting it before a jury.
The suit accused Deborah Martin of Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Conversion of Property and Fraud, by exploitation and sexual manipulation of Donn Henson to take his money. The attorneys discovered, as the Alzheimer's had progressed, the amount of money going to Martin increased.
"We calculated about $53,000 over a period of nearly 3 years," Healy explained, as he showed 11Alive News the ledger.
"She had layers and layers of lies to try to justify what she had done,"Chandley said.
She says Martin claimed that she was taking care of Henson, doing chores, sweeping the porch, and bringing over fruit baskets.
The family didn't believe it and neither did the jury. Especially after they were presented with nude photos, developed from a disposable camera found in Donn Henson's home.
There was a nude photo of a woman putting a towel over her face. Another of the same woman using a pillow to disguise her identity. Martin would not admit they were of her. However, she couldn't hide from the identifying marks, like distinctive, tattoos.
"I told the jury it was one of the tools in her toolbox," Healy said. "She used her feminine wiles to encourage this vulnerable old man suffering Alzheimer's dementia to do her bidding."
That's why late one afternoon in August we knocked on Deborah Martin's door to talk with her. She wasn't home. We waited. Later that same afternoon she pulled up to get her mail from the box on the street.
"Are you Deborah Martin?" I asked, getting out of our vehicle to talk with her.
"I am," she said but immediately upon seeing our camera she headed straight for her SUV, got inside, closed the door and proceeded to drive away.
However, she couldn't escape the verdict. On August 15, 2013, nearly two years after Donn Henson had been laid to rest, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff on all counts. It was a 70 thousand dollar verdict - including 10 thousand dollars in punitive damages.
"Very gratifying," Healy responded, because unlike many other states, Georgia does not have a 'Sweetheart Swindle' law and the Chandley's had no road map to follow.
"We've got to make a statement for other families,"Chandley said.
They are now looking for a Georgia lawmaker who take notice and help to bring about change to help other families.
We contacted Deborah Martin's attorney, Bruce Harkness, for comment.
"I'm not going to be doing any post judgment work," Harkness said, "I've turned her file over to her."
We don't know if Martin is planning to appeal.
WXIA, Gannett News Service