The former business manager of a New Jersey assisted living community pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing approximately $237,000 from one of the community’s residents, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

Marcella Drakeford faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss involved, on a mail fraud charge when she is sentenced July 22.

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court, Drakeford was granted limited access to the resident’s checking account in December 2016 after she agreed to help with the resident’s financial affairs. Drakeford was authorized to use the account only to pay for the resident’s care and living expenses, the indictment said.

Unbeknownst to the resident or to the resident’s guardian — a family member — however, Drakeford already had fraudulently added her name as a signatory to the resident’s credit card account and had several credit cards tied to the account issued in her name, according to the indictment. Drakeford then reportedly used the credit cards to buy clothing, shoes, jewelry, trips and dental work and to pay rent, car and utility bills.

Drakeford, who lives in Florida now, originally faced the potential of decades in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines when she was arrested and charged with six counts of mail fraud in March 2018. The charges stemed from Drakeford’s alleged payment of the credit card bills via mail with checks drawn on the resident’s checking account, all without permission, from January through April 2017.

The indictment did not name the assisted living community at which Drakeford worked, but an online profile of her identified the community as Spring Hills Morristown, and company representatives confirmed her former employment to McKnight’s Senior Living at the time of her arrest.

Drakeford had been hired in March 2015 after a screening that included a state-required criminal background check, Spring Hills Senior Communities said. The affected resident had moved into the community in January 2016, according to the company.

Spring Hills said a family member of the resident informed the community in April 2017 that funds were missing from the resident’s account.

“The community responded immediately by contacting Morristown Police and suspending Drakeford,” according to a statement provided to McKnight’s Senior Living in 2018. “The community cooperated fully with the postal inspector’s office and turned over all records requested. After an internal investigation, Drakeford was terminated.”

Spring Hills Senior Communities had not experienced a similar incident in the past, Unanda Bell, vice president of human resources and talent management for Spring Hills, told McKnight’s Senior Living at the time.

“We are horrified and saddened by such a heinous act and do not tolerate behavior of this kind. We take the responsibility of protecting our residents seriously,” she had said. “Unfortunately, a personal arrangement was made between Drakeford and the family to facilitate financial transactions on behalf of the resident, a practice the company does not condone.”

Spring Hills said it was notified of the charges against Drakeford on the day of her arrest. The indictment also called for Drakeford to forfeit all property obtained through the alleged scheme, including $237,258.27, or the equivalent, if she was found guilty.

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