Randi Berkowitz, 58, and Patricia DiGiacomo, 63, were arraigned today on a 63-count indictment charging they used their neighbor's cat to gain entry to her life and her finances - which they then allegedly plundered - the Suffolk County District Attorney's office says.
The two ingratiated themselves with the victim, a Strathmore Road neighbor who lived next door to them on Strathmore Road, by caring for her 7-year-old tabby, "Puddy Cat." The victim had no close family and the cat was "the most important thing in her life," according to prosecutors:
Beginning in late 2012, [Assistant DA Michele] Granda said, Berkowitz and DiGiacomo convinced the victim to name Berkowitz as her power of attorney and administrator of her will, granting her authority to make financial and other decisions in her name. Complicating matters, however, was the fact that Berkowitz was posing as DiGiacomo, and even had a bogus Massachusetts driver's license bearing Berkowitz' photo and DiGiacomo's name and biographical information.
"The elder doesn't know anyone named Randi Berkowitz," Granda said. "She knows Randi Berkowitz as Pat DiGiacomo and knows Patricia DiGiacomo as Pat's friend, Devon."
The defendants had "unrestricted access" to the victim's finances, Granda said, and even got the victim to sign blank checks that they used for their own purchases "wholly unrelated" to the victim or Puddy Cat. Within 12 months of appointing Berkowitz as her power of attorney, the victim's bank account was siphoned of some $175,000.
The defendants allegedly used the victim's money to buy a 2010 Mini Cooper, an iPad, exercise equipment, meals, specialty kitchen supplies, and other items for themselves. They also used the money to retain attorneys to defend them in earlier criminal cases charging them with fraudulently obtaining prescription painkillers - a scheme in which Berkowitz saw multiple doctors under her own identity and that of DiGiacomo to obtain large quantities of OxyContin and Percocet - and Registry of Motor Vehicles fraud for using the falsified driver's license to achieve that end. They opened six credit card accounts in the victim's name.
Most disturbing, prosecutors said, was an aspect of the scheme in which the defendants allegedly got the victim to transfer ownership of her condominium to Berkowitz. ...
Berkowitz allegedly went to Suffolk Superior Court to file a lawsuit claiming ownership of the condominium. She allegedly represented herself to the judge as "Patricia DiGiacomo" and filed false statements in paperwork signed under the pains and penalties of perjury. As the criminal investigation closed in on them, meanwhile, the two began liquidating all the assets they had stolen from the victim and deposited in their own accounts. When State Police assigned to the Suffolk DA's office executed a search warrant on their apartment, detectives recovered $64,000 in currency, uncashed money orders, and bank checks. State Police also froze their bank accounts and the Mini Cooper they allegedly bought with the victim's savings.