Richard Carter doesn’t have any old photographs of his mother. He doesn’t have any of his childhood toys, he says, no mementos of his family home.
When Carter’s mother died in 2004 at the age of 94, his sister, Carlene Veara of South Yarmouth, was left in charge of the estate. But she gave her brother only a brief window to travel from his home in Florida and claim any keepsakes he might want from their mother’s house in Bridgewater, he says.
“I couldn’t get up there in three days,” he said in a recent phone interview with the Times. “Consequently, I got nothing.”
And when Veara sold the Bridgewater property a few months later, she offered Carter a payment worth just a small fraction of the sale price, rather than the 50-percent share that had been their mother’s documented intention for the better part of two decades.
“(My sister) had always been somewhat shady in her dealings,” he said. “It was like money became her god and she was going to do anything to get it.”
Carter filed suit against his sister in 2006, a suit he eventually settled. But he isn’t the only one raising questions about Veara, 74, a member of the Yarmouth Finance Committee, a former financial adviser, and the owner of Cape Cod Caretakers, an elder home-care business she founded in 2006.
The state has charged Veara with securities violations and she is entangled in two other cases, both in Barnstable County Probate Court and both brought by concerned families who said they were unaware of each other’s complaints.
The state Securities Division charges — which are a civil administrative matter rather than a criminal charge but could result in a fine — allege Veara “systematically gained access and control over all the assets of one of her Morgan Stanley Smith Barney clients.” Veara used her power of attorney to write herself checks from her clients’ accounts, according to court records and the state complaint. She also opened joint bank accounts with her clients and transferred money from these accounts into her own name, the state complaint contends.
Veara is a well-known figure in Yarmouth civic life. She has chaired the board of the region’s community-access television station, served as president of the Rotary Club of Harwich-Dennis and donated money to area nonprofits. In 2007, she volunteered for the town finance committee. Last year, she proposed a successful override to provide money for Yarmouth’s police and fire departments.
The legal cases against her, however, all tell similar stories of a woman who used the trust placed in her as an adviser, caretaker and friend to methodically assume control of her elderly clients’ finances and siphon money into her own accounts.
Veara declined multiple requests to comment for this story, but Joe Hardcastle, her attorney in the Hutchinson case, said, “It is fair to say that Ms. Veara strongly disputes that she did anything wrong.”
Abusing her privileges?
Veara met West Dennis resident Ruth Hutchinson, now 98, in the 1970s and quickly became her friend, Veara said in a court affidavit. In the early 1980s, when Veara began working as a financial adviser, Hutchinson became a client, according to court documents.
In 1993, Hutchinson drew up a will, in which Veara was named executrix and potential beneficiary. If Hutchinson outlived her best friend, that friend’s share of the inheritance would go to Veara.
In 2008, Hutchinson became a client of Cape Cod Caretakers and Veara became more involved in her financial and personal life. Almost immediately, Veara began to abuse those privileges, according to the state securities charges.
Though the state securities complaint refers only to an unnamed “elderly client,” both parties acknowledge in probate court files that the charges focus on Veara’s interactions with Hutchinson.
Starting in August 2008, Veara facilitated the transfer of $177,000 from Hutchinson’s accounts to those of Cape Cod Caretakers, wiping out accounts intended for Hutchinson’s godchildren and dipping into a $200,000 annuity, according to the state complaint.
In spring 2010, Veara filed paperwork for Hutchinson that would, upon her death, transfer half of her individual Morgan Stanley Smith Barney brokerage account — then valued at $660,000 — to Veara, according to the state complaint.
Around that same time, Hutchinson’s great-niece Nina Pickett became concerned about her aunt’s deteriorating mental capacity, according to an affidavit in the probate case Pickett filed in October. A doctor at the Memory Center in Cotuit concluded in July 2010 that Hutchinson was experiencing “moderate, consistent forgetfulness” and that “any calculations or financial planning … would be difficult for her, if not impossible.”
Pickett was already wary of Veara’s involvement with Hutchinson when, in April 2010, she planned a trip to Cape Cod to visit her aunt. Her suspicions were only heightened when Veara called and attempted to persuade her not to come, according to Pickett’s affidavit.
“Although I went anyhow, Veara seemed frantic about my visiting Ruth,” Pickett said in her affidavit.
In her testimony, Veara contended that she only meant to suggest that Pickett find alternate lodgings.
When Pickett attempted to visit her aunt in October, a Cape Cod Caretakers employee refused her entrance to the house until her lawyer intervened, Pickett said in her affidavit.
In an affidavit filed as part of the Hutchinson case, Veara calls Pickett’s claims “self-serving” and asserts that “the allegations of financial improprieties … are inaccurate and baseless.”
‘I worked very, very hard’
Franklin and Shirley Everts of South Yarmouth first became Veara’s financial clients in 1984, according to court records.
As she did with Hutchinson, Veara became more involved in the Everts’ financial and personal lives as they aged, court records show. In 1996, the couple established a trust, naming Veara sole trustee. Three years later, Franklin and then Shirley Everts both gave Veara power of attorney over their affairs.
They eventually became clients of Cape Cod Caretakers. Franklin Everts died in 2005. His wife died in late 2006.
Franklin Everts’ son, Charles Everts, also contends that Veara took advantage of her financial authority.
Charles Everts hired forensic accountant Alan Suvalle, who concluded Veara wrote herself checks totaling $646,000 from an account she shared with Shirley Everts.
In a deposition, Veara claimed the checks were reimbursement for cash she paid to the Everts’ caretakers and for their household expenses. Suvalle, however, concluded that “Veara has failed to maintain even basic records to support her claim” and that “Veara’s explanations of the amounts she claims were paid in cash to the Evertses’ helpers and for maintenance on the house appear exaggerated and otherwise inaccurate.”
In Veara’s deposition, she said she had written herself a $107,000 check from Franklin Everts’ account to recoup $500 per week he had agreed to pay her for coordinating his in-home care. In her deposition, she also said Franklin Everts had not paid her for four years, but she was unable to produce any record that he had ever agreed to the arrangement. “It was very, very difficult work; and I worked very, very hard, and no one else was there,” Veara said when asked during her deposition about the alleged agreement.
Thousands in line of credit
Veara and her brother had been joint trustees and beneficiaries of the trust that owned Arlene Carter’s home beginning in 1984. In December 2003, that trust was dissolved.
“I signed a paper. I was assured it was just to appease my mother,” Richard Carter said. “I did it in good faith. I thought my sister would react in good faith.”
In March 2004, a new trust was formed, with Veara as trustee. Weeks later, the trust was amended, naming Richard Carter, Veara and her son equal beneficiaries.
Days before her mother, Arlene Carter, died in June 2004, Veara opened a $150,000 line of credit on the property.
Veara gave $20,000 of the money from the home equity loan to her son, claiming it was a present designated by her mother. Yet, nursing home records from the last months of Arlene Carter’s life, cited in Superior Court records, indicate she was experiencing “episodes of confusion” and the “presence of delusions.”
Veara wrote herself checks totaling $110,000 from the line of credit on her mother’s house. The money, Veara claimed in court documents, was reimbursement for expenses she incurred caring for her mother and for “time she spent with her mother at the rate of $100 per hour.”
When Arlene Carter was hospitalized, Veara never called her brother to tell him of their mother’s illness, he said. When he learned she was sick and came to visit, he was puzzled to find that he was never left alone with his mother.
Veara “had told people in the nursing home that I was a danger, that I couldn’t be left alone with my mother,” Richard Carter said.
In October 2004, Veara sold her mother’s house for $260,000. Half of that sum went to pay back the money Veara had borrowed against the property months earlier. She offered her brother $41,000 — a one-third share — of the remaining money.
Pickett and Charles Everts both declined to comment for publication because of their ongoing legal cases.
But the Hutchinson, Everts and Carter cases all raise questions about whether the people under Veara’s care were competent to make the financial and legal decisions Veara said they had made. They also show how difficult it is to prove accusations such as those made against Veara.
“The biggest issue would be the elder’s capacity to understand the situation,” said Eddie Murphy, protective services supervisor at Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands. “One thing we focus on in all situations is the elder’s ability to understand the situation and the risk involved.”
And determining an elderly person’s level of awareness can be tricky, he said.
“It can be subjective, and it can differ at different times of the day or different visits,” he said.
Those trying to determine whether an elder is being financially exploited must also balance concerns about possible abuse against the subject’s rights.
“If the elder wants to give money, they have the right to do that,” Murphy said. “They’re tough situations, but you have to look at it individually.”
So far, the accusations against Veara led Morgan Stanley Smith Barney to fire her on May 17, 2010, citing her failure to disclose business arrangements conducted outside her employment with the firm. She is, however, still a licensed broker.
The state securities case is ongoing, said spokesman Brian McNiff, as are the two probate cases, according to court records.
Veara stepped down from her position as chairwoman of the Yarmouth Finance Committee in December, after the state securities charges were filed, but still serves on the board.
“She has appeared at all the meetings, has not taken a back seat in terms of her role,” committee chairman Philip Morris said. “There’s been no cloud, in my knowledge, among town staff or town departments.”
On April 28, Pickett filed a complaint against Veara, on Hutchinson’s behalf, with the Dennis police. The investigation is still open and the complaint has not yet come to the attention of the district attorney’s office, Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Michael Trudeau said.
It is unclear whether Cape Cod Caretakers is still in operation. Several calls to the business’ phone number have gone unanswered in recent weeks, but in March, Veara filed an annual report for the company with the state Corporations Division.
Richard Carter settled his case with his sister in July 2008, for a sum he said was slightly more than she originally offered. Now, he said, he will be eager to watch the other cases unfold.
“She used to even brag about it, how she could get older people to hand over their assets,” he said. “She just finally got caught, and I think it’s wonderful.”
This story was published in the Cape Cod Times on May 29, 2011. Read the story at CapeCodOnline.com.