When Janet Nardi met Julie Lane, she saw a wonderful caregiver for her 80-year-old mother, who needed help following a bad fall in late 2010.
Hindsight tells a different story.
In Lane, Nardi saw a former registered nurse from Idaho who worked for a local Christian in-home health-care company, and was sweet, kind and helpful.
She was also impressed Lane, 46, never let things get her down. Orphaned as a child. Breast cancer survivor. Two children serving in Iraq, and she terribly missed her grandchildren, who lived in Idaho.
Nardi hired Lane away from the agency, nearly doubling her salary.
She felt comfortable leaving her mother in Lane's care while she returned to her life back in L.A.
She liked Lane so much, Nardi dismissed her mother's complaints Lane hadn't fed her breakfast or shown up for work that day. She believed her mother had simply forgotten.
That was until Nardi began noticing items missing from the house during her visits - the pretty tea cups she liked, spices, a winter coat, a patio chair, some plastic food containers.
Then her mother's monthly expenses started skyrocketing, to the point certificates of deposits had to be cashed.
Lane told Nardi some of her mother's medications were no longer covered by insurance and offered other explanations.
But when Nardi found her mother's bank statements shredded, she made an appointment with the bank and spent five hours going over her mother's records with a bank manager.
Nardi had also noticed her mother's daily heart medication wasn't in her mother's pill box, but two "as-needed" pain pills were in every section.
Nardi went to the police on May 31, 2011.
In the following weeks, she learned Lane had never been a nurse, didn't have children in Iraq or grandchildren in Idaho and was accused of ripping off a 90-year-old lady. Neither was she orphaned as a child. And her supposedly dead husband was very much alive.
Lane was indicted on multiple charges of fraud, forgery and theft from a vulnerable adult, and convicted in February of forging checks totaling more than $20,000.
On Monday, Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini sentenced Lane to 11 1/4 years in prison, tacked on to the end of the two years she is already serving for stealing $2,000 from the other elderly woman. She was also ordered to pay more than $28,000 in restitution.
"This woman victimizes people. She's a predator," Nardi said. "From the moment she walked into my mother's house she gained our trust by creating a person we could empathize with ... Your heart went out to her."
Court documents and expert testimony indicate Lane has a history of pathological lying and manipulative behavior, led a parasitic lifestyle and had either shown indifference about her victims or rationalized her behavior.
In addition to the breast cancer, Lane has also claimed to have diabetes, a heart murmur, congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart, none of which was true, Assistant Arizona Attorney General Jesse Delaney said.
She has told wildly divergent stories about her education, her mother's supposed death from cancer and the number of siblings and former husbands she had, as well as her nursing background in Idaho.
One thing is for certain, Lane has never lived in Idaho, Delaney said. She is from Oregon.
Nardi said the case has had a devastating affect on her mother, who feels betrayed and embarrassed and frets about running out of money.
Nardi and her brother were forced to put their mother into an assisted living home until her home sold. She was then moved to another facility in California.
As a result, her mother has experienced disorientation, confusion, anger and anxiety, Nardi said.
"I felt foolish. Why didn't I question things earlier? Why didn't I see the signs?" Nardi said. "I guess she had us under her spell, too."
Nardi said her experience shows the need for families to do their own background checks before hiring someone to provide in-home care.
In-home health-care agencies are not required to do background checks under Arizona law. If the agency that placed Lane into her mother's home had done a background check, they would've learned about the 90-year-old victim, Nardi said.
The agency didn't even notice that Lane wrote down her own phone number next to the name of one of her references, Nardi said.
A task force created by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne in March 2011 is working on proposed legislation that would require background checks and licenses, said Delaney, who prosecuted Lane.
Elder abuse is such a large problem in Arizona, Horne created the Taskforce Against Senior Abuse to identify and address specific issues, Delaney said.
In addition to working with agencies that deal with the elderly, a dedicated telephone number was created - 1-602-542-2124 - so members of the public, law enforcement, caregivers and family members can file reports.
Nardi worries what will happen once Lane is released from prison.
"I definitely felt like she needed to be put away as long as possible," Nardi said. "Even though she got caught (stealing from the first victim), within two weeks she was doing it again."
Once out of prison, Lane will be on intensive probation for five years. During an investigation into the two in-home health-care cases, investigators learned Lane had stolen a total of $960 cash from three elderly hotel guests in 2009 while working as a maid. She entered a plea agreement in that case.
The Taskforce Against Senior Abuse dedicated phone number is 1-602-542-2124 or email TASA at SeniorAbuse@azag.gov
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org