DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - State prosecutors believe Valerie West threatened to break a woman's neck when that woman demanded answers on the whereabouts of her disabled family member, who disappeared while in West's unlicensed care.
The woman had been moved to another home in another county without anyone's knowledge.
West, a Conyers home care provider, is also accused of stealing another disabled client's Social Security funds to purchase a Dooney & Bourke handbag.
Meanwhile a mute, malnourished gentleman whose weigh dropped to 73 pounds in a Decatur home went without electricity, preventing access to his oxygen supply. No food was in his feeding tube, and his attempts to get emergency care were ignored when he forwarded a handwritten note to a caretaker named Cynthia Riley.
He died last year, and prosecutors say West continued to receive his government benefits.
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These are just a few of the accusations outlined in a 17-count indictment against West, her relatives and her alleged accomplices. According to prosecutors, the case is being used to highlight a growing threat in Georgia -- elderly trafficking and abuse.
"I feel a great deal of satisfaction when somebody has taken advantage of an older adult or an at-risk adult and we're there to say, ‘You're not going to do it anymore,'" said State Attorney General Chris Carr.
The indictment was handed down by a DeKalb County grand jury earlier this summer.
The investigation into trafficking, aggravated assault identity fraud and exploitation charges involved the GBI, the state's Medicaid fraud unit and DeKalb County police.
Defendants and charges include:
- Valerie West: Neglect to a disabled adult, trafficking of a disabled adult, terroristic threats, four counts of depriving a disabled adult of essential services, aggravated assault, exploitation of a disabled adult and identity fraud
- Eric West: Neglect to a Disabled Adult, Depriving a four counts of Disabled Adult of Essential Services
- Erica West: Neglect to a Disabled Adult, Trafficking of a Disabled Adult, two counts of Depriving a Disabled Adult of Essential Services, three counts of Exploitation of a Disabled Adult and Identity Fraud
- Akeem Dancy: Trafficking of a disabled adult
- Jadon Dancy: Trafficking of a disabled adult
- Cynthia Riley: Neglect to a disabled adult, failure to report neglect of a disabled adult
- Ceretha Stephens: Failure to report neglect of a disabled adult
None of the Rockdale and DeKalb residents were strangers to state investigators at the time of their arrests earlier this year.
"Individuals in that scheme were also involved in a scheme in Dougherty County, so our office, the Medicaid fraud division, already had open cases on those individuals," said Amanda Love, assistant attorney general for the Medicaid fraud division.
Love said the unit connected the dots to open local investigations involving several private homes in which the defendants were allegedly working.
"At the same time, the DeKalb County Police Department started getting calls from individuals about these locations, saying, 'Something isn't right,'" Love said.
She said the allegations claim that Akeem Dancy used his positions in mental health care facilities care to identify potential clients for West, while Jadon Dancy helped run the home facilities for the Wests.
Riley and Stephens were caretakers, and clients were found in filthy conditions, covered by bedbugs and living in homes without basic utilities, per the indictment.
Government benefits from clients would be used to pay personal expenses for the Wests, including
bills, and to pay for beauty supplies and, in one case, a luxury handbag, according to investigators.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr went to West's Rockdale County home Thursday. A home health care van was parked in the driveway, but no one was home.
While the group awaits trial, state prosecutors are encouraging the public to become familiar with the warning signs of elderly trafficking and abuse.
Carr said victims are often targeted as they're being discharged from hospitals and mental health facilities or are leaving homeless shelters. In many cases, there are no legal guardians to properly monitor their affairs. He said people such as the West family look for that vulnerability and gain control over the victims' finances.
"It could be your EBT card. It could be your veterans' benefits. It could be your Social Security check. It could be your identity," Carr said.
Love said her unit pushes employees in the discharge unit to recognize warning signs.
"Really scrutinize the people who are coming to you saying they are going to provide a place for a mentally ill individual," Love said. "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is."
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