Two healthcare aides face up to 60 years if convicted of exploiting an elderly john’s island couple

Two healthcare aides charged with exploiting an elderly John’s Island couple – spending more than $500,000 on such expenses as a stay at the Plaza Hotel in New York, rental of a Rolls-Royce Ghost, and shopping at Ralph Lauren and Nieman Marcus – should be ready for the setting of a trial date by mid-January, their attorneys told Judge Cynthia Cox.

Cox scheduled a Jan. 16 status hearing for Vero Beach residents Chiquita McGee, 30, and Sophia Shepherd, 31, who both face two felony charges – exploiting an elderly adult and scheming to defraud a financial institution. If convicted, the women could face up to 60 years in prison.

McGee’s attorney, Lydia Pittaway, and Shepherd’s attorney, Robert Stone, told Cox last month they needed a few weeks to review a Dec. 17 deposition the state attorney’s office took from Michelina Martinelli, one of the victims of the alleged fraud. According to court affidavits, McGee and Shepherd, certified nursing assistants, had been working for Michelina, 87, and her husband, Alfred Martinelli, 89, since at least 2017.

Both Martinellis suffered from dementia, cognitive impairment and poor health, according to reports from the Indian River Shores Department of Public Safety.

The Martinellis filed a police report in January 2018 after suspicious family members discovered that the caregivers had used the Martinellis’ personal information to obtain several credit cards.

Investigators say McGee and Shepherd “willfully conspired” to commit crimes, and in addition to using the credit cards for unauthorized expenses, “fraudulently” obtained checks they used to buy high-end jewelry, clothing and a car engine, and to pay for cosmetic dental work and plastic surgery.

The state attorney’s office on Dec. 20 released a list of 29 businesses where McGee and Shepherd are alleged to have made purchases.

During interviews with police, Mrs. Martinelli said she didn’t remember authorizing such extravagant expenses. She “believed the suspects were buying her husband pants and shirts and things like that,” wrote Detective Ken Barrett in an arrest affidavit.

She believed the nursing aides were purchasing supplies the couple needed with their own personal funds and required reimbursement, Barrett explained. He said she thought Shepherd and McGee were “hard working girls and didn’t have that much money so she would pay them immediately.”

During an interview with police, Shepherd insisted on her innocence, but Barrett noted Shepherd was wearing a yellow diamond ring that matched one of the suspected fraudulent purchases.

Shepherd and McGee, who were arrested on March 13, 2018, have pleaded not guilty to the charges, and remain free on bond.

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