By Daniel Massey
A housekeeper who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $430,000 from her 93-year-old Forest Hills employer before trying to swindle an incapacitated retired police officer out of his co-op apartment was sentenced to up to six years in jail last Thursday.
Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Chin-Brandt sentenced Joan Miller, who is also known as Susan Wong, to two to six years for grand larceny for bilking the elderly woman out of her life savings and one to three years for attempted forgery for trying to con the former police officer out of his home.
The sentences will run concurrently, meaning Miller, who holds a Guyanese passport, will spend a minimum of two years and a maximum of six years in jail, said Assistant District Attorney Dianna Megias.
Megias said the plea bargain was in the best interest of the victims because Edna Livingston, the 93-year-old woman. and Dennis McGowan, the former police officer who suffers from multiple sclerosis, were not fit to testify against Miller.
The sentencing hearing was enlivened by a passionate address to the court by Herzl Eisenstadt, the court-appointed guardian for Livingston.
Eisenstadt called Miller “a creature of the lowest caliber on the slippery human scale, short of a terrorist.” He said she moved “with the same stealth of a terrorist, but operated inversely…by literally and figuratively lulling her victims into a state of complacency, rather than alerting them to guard against the ruinous danger that she poses.”
An accomplished artist with a degree from Parsons School of Design, Livingston lived alone from 1974, when her husband died, until meeting Miller at a food fair in the summer of 1997.
Miller moved in with Livingston at 100-13 75th Ave. in July 1998 and agreed to perform housekeeping duties in exchange for $60 a week as well as room and board.
Eisenstadt, who evaluated the situation for the courts before becoming Livingston’s guardian, said Miller then systematically conned his ward out of all she owned, emptying her savings and stock accounts, selling her furniture and jewelry and putting a reverse mortgage of almost $200,000 out on her home. Miller had also accrued significant debt in the elderly woman’s name, he said.
In 1998, Miller reported more than $200,000 in gambling debts, incurred on frequent trips to Atlantic City and to Uncasville, Conn., on her tax return, the DA’s office said.
“She lied, she conned, she stole,” said Eisenstadt in his remarks to the court. “And then she gambled it all away and came back for more to place even more bets.”
With her bank accounts depleted, Livingston was forced to sell her house and move into an undisclosed nursing home.
Miller then moved into McGowan’s co-op on 112th Street in Forest Hills in July 2000. The retired police officer agreed to pay her $100 a week to cook and do light chores, the DA’s office said.
After being alerted to the case last year by Livingston’s neighbors who saw Miller taking limousines and removing furniture from the house, the DA’s office said investigators traced the defendant to McGowan’s apartment, where they found a power-of-attorney document forged by Miller.
The investigators confirmed with the building’s management agency that Miller had put the apartment up for sale.
But Miller’s attorney, Robert Sparrow, said the power of attorney was signed by McGowan in the presence of a notary public. He said Miller admitted to the forgery charges because the district attorney would not accept a plea only in the Livingston case.
Sparrow also said there was “justification” for his client’s emptying of Livingston’s bank accounts.
While he conceded Miller “undoubtedly exceeded her authority and bounds,” he said she was “the beneficiary of a great deal of love, affection and largesse from Ms. Livingston.” He said they had a “mother-daughter relationship” and referred to a letter he has in his possession in which Livingston allegedly “indicates she would like Joan to inherit everything she possessed.”
But Eisenstadt said he “saw six drafts of that letter in other than Ms. Livingston’s handwriting and then the final one in her hand.” Megias said the letter was “authored by the defendant.”
The Assistant DA said Miller robbed Livingston of more than her life savings.
“Susan Miller took her away from all her friends,” Megias said. “She was a very social person, but she soon saw Susan Miller as her only hope.”
Both Megias and Eisenstadt said they would do their utmost to see that Miller spent the maximum six years behind bars, after which they indicated they would work to get her deported to Guyana.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.