Ethics Commission's Enforcement Division Alleges that Former Belmont Council on Aging Employee Kathryn Christopher Violated the Conflict of Interest Law
Assigned Herself to Privately Paid Position to Provide Care Services to an Elderly Client; Used Approximately $300,000 of the Client's Money to Pay For Her Personal and Family Expenses
According to the OTSC, as the COA HCC, Christopher's duties included developing service plans for the town's elderly clients who requested assistance, locating service providers to provide those services, and monitoring the service delivery. Town policy prohibits COA employees from privately providing services to COA clients. Beginning in early January 2003, Christopher, as the COA HCC, evaluated the elderly Client, and then assigned herself to privately provide those services instead of assigning an approved home care provider. The Client paid Christopher to provide private home care services while Christopher was also being paid by the COA to monitor those same services. The Client had been diagnosed with dementia symptoms, and later, with advanced Alzheimer's Disease.
The OTSC states that Christopher exploited the trust she had developed with the Client in her dual capacity as COA HCC and private home care provider to gain access to the Client's assets and bank accounts. Christopher prepared checks for the Client to sign, including checks to pay herself for her services as care provider, as well as checks which paid for Christopher's personal and family expenses. Later, Christopher used money from the Client's savings account to pay for her personal and family expenses. In addition, Christopher is alleged to have:
- Opened a post office box in the Client's name for which Christopher held the only key;
- Used the Client's credit cards to make substantial purchases of personal items, and did not reimburse the Client;
- Arranged for an attorney to change the Client's will to make Christopher the primary beneficiary of the Client's estate (the first attorney Christopher contacted declined to change the will because of the mental state of the Client), and arranged to have the Client sign the will;
- Had the Client sign a health care proxy naming Christopher, and then, several months later, when the Client was hospitalized, authorized a "Do Not Resuscitate" order;
- Had the Client obtain a $200,000 loan secured by a mortgage on the Client's mortgage-free home, and used the proceeds to pay for Christopher's personal and family expenses; obtained a second loan in the amount of $250,000 secured by a mortgage on the Client's home, the proceeds of which she put in an account which Christopher used to pay Christopher's personal and family expenses;
- Used the Client's funds to pay for $40,000 in renovations to the Client's home, after which Christopher moved into the Client's home along with her spouse and child, where they resided rent-free (even after the Client's death in 2007); and
- Accessed the Client's savings account after the Client died in 2007 to pay for Christopher's personal and family expenses as well as expenses related to the Client's home.
According to the OTSC, Christopher used approximately $300,000 of the Client's money to pay for Christopher's personal and family expenses.
The OTSC details several sections of the conflict of interest law that Christopher is alleged to have violated:
- Section 17 prohibits a municipal employee from requesting or receiving compensation from anyone other than the municipality in relation to a particular matter in which the municipality is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.
- Section 19 prohibits a municipal employee from participating as such in a particular matter in which, to her knowledge, she or her immediate family has a financial interest.
- Section 23(b)(3) prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, knowing all of the relevant facts, to conclude that anyone can improperly influence or unduly enjoy her favor in the performance of her official duties or that she is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person.
- Section 23(b)(1) prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, accepting other employment involving compensation of substantial value, the responsibilities of which are inherently incompatible with the responsibilities of her public office.
- Section 23(b)(2) prohibits a municipal employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, using or attempting to use her official position to secure for herself or others an unwarranted privilege or exemption of substantial value not properly available to similarly situated individuals.
The Commission will schedule a public hearing in this matter within 90 days.