A New York City couple has been charged with stealing more than $500,000 in monthly payments that a woman with disabilities was supposed to be receiving as part of a settlement stemming from a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The alleged victim, a 43-year-old woman who is deaf, blind, and immobile, and has intellectual disabilities, had previously settled a medical practice lawsuit, with the settlement money to be provided to her in the form of a structured settlement. In contrast to lump-sum awards, where the victim of a personal injury lawsuit receives all her compensation at one time, the purpose of a structured settlement is to provide regular, ongoing payments to the victim.
Properly structured settlements protect the victim’s long-term interests by guaranteeing a steady stream of income, thus providing a layer of protection against poor spending decisions. The payments are also tax-free. But when structured settlements lack proper oversight, they can be a lucrative source of income for scam artists.
According to the Queens County District Attorney, the alleged victim’s elderly mother hired Luz and Rosendo Tejeda as caretakers for her daughter in 2016. The elderly mother eventually agreed to give the Tejedas shared guardianship of her daughter.
In September 2016, the Tejedas allegedly contacted the financial services company that disburses the monthly payments and requested that the payments be deposited in the Tejedas’ personal bank account. According to the charges, the couple continued receiving the payments through September 2020. They also borrowed more than $145,000 from the bank against future payments and took out another loan worth nearly $10,000. The alleged scam was only discovered when the elderly mother hired a new health care attendant, who suspected fraud and contacted the Queens County District Attorney’s Fraud Unit.
On December 9, 2020, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced charges against the couple of second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of stolen property and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person. The Tejedas face up to 15 years in prison.
“The couple accused in this case allegedly took advantage of a disabled woman and her septuagenarian mother to line their own pockets,” Katz said in a statement. “For years, they allegedly raked in thousands of dollars every month – money intended to pay for the specialized care the victim will require for the rest of her life. The defendants’ alleged actions are beyond shameful, they are criminal.”
If you suspect that someone may be the victim of abuse, you should contact your local district attorney’s fraud unit.