February 15, 2010

USA: Woman urges judge to give her sister jail for taking > $100,000 from parents

. GRAND HAVEN, Michigan / The Grand Rapids Press / February 15, 2010 By John Tunison | The Grand Rapids Press Janet Unger figures the rift in her family will never be repaired. After her sister was accused of wrongly taking more than $100,000 from her elderly parents' savings, their relationship disintegrated. "My reaction was: Someone had shoved a sword through my chest," Unger told a judge Monday before her sister, Eloise Russo, was sentenced for embezzlement. "Eloise has been secretive, deceitful, evasive and manipulative," Unger went on to say, urging jail time. Russo, 53, did not get jail but instead was ordered to serve 200 hours of community service and placed on two years probation in Ottawa County Circuit Court. She'll have to pay restitution as determined by a probate judge. Janet Unger, oldest daughter of Tom and Ada Sherwin, reads a statement before sentencing of her sister, Eloise Russo, in Grand Haven Circuit Court Monday morning. Mark Copier | The Grand Rapids Press Russo was appointed guardian to her parents, Tom and Ada Sherwin, of Hudsonville, in early 2007. Relatives claim the Sherwins had life savings of $279,000 at one point, but now it's substantially depleted. Tom Sherwin, who worked as a farmer and school bus driver, died in October at the age of 90. Ada Sherwin, 83, is in a nursing home, surviving on Medicaid, Unger said. Unger lashed out at her sister in a court statement Monday, claiming that the misspent funds have left not only her mother in financial harm, but also two mentally disabled adult brothers, ages 56 and 60, who depended on her parents' finances. "Now, my two brothers live in an adult foster-care home on Social Security disability," Unger said. "After their rent is paid, they have only $40 left a month for personal needs like clothes." Probate court records show that Russo, no longer guardian to her mother, misappropriated $107,000 over more than a year's time. Her attorney, Kelly Lambert, said the fraud looked worse than it was because Russo simply overbilled herself for care services rendered to her parents and never intended to steal any money. But court records say Russo admitted spending $10,000 on gambling, gave $10,000 to another sister (not Unger) and spent $16,000 on a car for her sister. Unger claims Russo also spent money on her daughter's wedding. Russo repaid much of the missing money, using $60,000 in retirement funds and $15,000 in pension money. In court Monday, a tearful Russo described how the charges have destroyed her life. While guardian since 2007, she began caring for her parents and brothers in 2004, she said. "My dad would be totally beside himself if he knew how far this had gone in the last year," she said. "All he ever wanted was for his family to get along. "I do regret what I did, but let me tell you, the care for my mom, dad and brothers was not jeopardized by what I did. They were my first priority." Russo lost her job as a Hudsonville school bus driver and has divorced from her husband. Monday's sentencing is not expected to end the family dispute. Unger claims Russo embezzled up to $166,000 from her parents, not $107,000, and wants a probate court judge to alter the earlier-set figure and order restitution. The Ungers say Russo sold her parents' mobile home in 2007 and pocketed the money, but Russo's attorney said the $15,000 profit was already included in the $107,000 sum. [rc] John Tunison E-Mail: jtunison@grpress.com © 2009 Michigan Live LLC.