Couple charged with exploitation of elderly could face more charges

Becky Campbell • Mar 28, 2013 at 10:23 PM

A Jonesborough husband and wife charged with bilking an elderly couple out of $150,000 in cash could face additional theft charges with new information prosecutors learned after their arrest, an attorney said Thursday.

Jama Curtis, 39, and Tony Curtis, 40, both of 1412 Mill Springs Road, are charged with theft over $60,000, theft over $10,000 and willful exploitation of an adult. They were in court Thursday for a bond reduction hearing and so Judge Robert Cupp could rule on the state’s motion to extend a restraining order to keep the Curtises away from the victim’s money and property.

Jama Curtis was the designated caregiver for the victims, a non-married couple, Ben A. Roberts, 85, and Billie Godwin, 82, according to Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle.

She’s accused of taking around $47,000 from Roberts’ account with daily ATM withdrawals up to $1,000 at various locations in Jonesborough and Johnson City, writing checks from the account to herself and her husband’s business for work that was never authorized or completed.

McArdle said in a restraining order that approximately $84,943.51 was made out in checks to the Curtises.

Cupp granted the restraining order and granted a defense request to reduce the couple’s bond. Cupp set the bonds at $10,000 each, but ordered they must post corporate bonds.

McArdle also told Cupp new information surfaced since the couple’s arrest last week. She said Roberts’ neighbors reported seeing large amounts of furniture being removed from his residence.

Investigators believe they have located the furniture in a rented storage unit. Cupp ordered the Curtises to stay away from that property to keep them from selling anything that doesn’t belong to them, McArdle said.

She also said the Curtises apparently purchased a camper for $5,200 and investigators are trying to determine if Roberts’ money was used for that.

Discrepancies in Roberts’ and Godwin’s bank accounts are what prompted the four-month police investigation after the bank notified authorities.

Jama Curtis had total access to Roberts’ and Godwin’s bank accounts, but was not authorized to use the money for herself. She was granted power of attorney for Roberts on July 13, 2012, to assist him and provide for his medical care and well-being, as he had been diagnosed with dementia.

Roberts was placed in a nursing home Oct. 29 and still resides there.

Jama Curtis was also placed on Godwin’s bank account, and from June 11 until Godwin’s death Jan. 10, and possibly after Godwin’s death, she withdrew approximately $18,000 by using checks.

Godwin, who eventually had to be cared for in a nursing home before her death, had signed a written statement Dec. 12 that said both Jama and Tony Curtis were not allowed to write any checks to themselves, according to the restraining order.

Theft over $60,000 is a Class B felony that carries a sentence of eight to 12 years in prison. Theft over $10,000 is a Class C felony that carries a sentence of three to six years and willful exploitation of an adult is a Class E felony that carries a sentence of one to two years in prison.

The Curtises’ next hearing date is May 21.

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