The following article appeared has appeared in various forms on several local news websites in the Tampa Bay area. This article is a perfect example of what can happen when too much authority is transferred pursuant to a durable power of attorney. In this example, it wasn't even the agent who took the money; it was the agent's spouse. What is really sad is when I sit in my office and hear stories like this with the elderly couple sitting in the room with a look of "what are we going to do?" The couple has a cause of action against their son and their daughter-in-law, but given their lack of capacity, an independent guardian would have to be appointed, and there may be nothing to recover anyway. A durable power of attorney is document with a lot of power, and should never be given to someone without carefully considering the alternatives. In this situation, if the elderly couple had set up a revocable trust with the son as the trustee, then this would have been less likely to occur. For more information contact Cody & Linde, PLLC
HERNANDO COUNTY -- A Hernando County woman's gambling problem has landed her in a lot of trouble. According to the Hernando Sheriff's Office, Jennifer Dennison stole more than half a million dollars from her in-laws to support her gambling habit. Officials said along the way, she spent a little more than $14 million at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. According to the sheriff's office's report, Dennison, 42, took approximately $513,535 from her in-laws' accounts. Officials said her husband Scott had Power of Attorney for his 88-year-old father and 73-year-old mother with advanced dementia, but that Jennifer handled the finances. "The information I got from the Seminole Casino was she would spend $200,000 to $300,000 a day at the casino," Economic Crimes Detective Irene Gray said. Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said Dennison's husband didn't know she was stealing his parents' life savings until another family member noticed a check didn't clear in their account. "Obviously this was a shocker for the family," Nienhuis said. "And it was even a little surprising to us. It was a considerable amount of money." A five-month investigation yielded that the older couple's finances, including savings and checking accounts, CD's, annuities, life insurance and retirement funds, had been wiped out. The sheriff's office report said of the $14 million Dennison lost gambling during a two-year period, she won most of it back. Her winnings' were about $13 million, leaving her at a loss of a little more than $700,000. Dennison teaches sonography at Sanford Brown College in Tampa, where two students say she bragged about the gambling. Former college student Gina LaBruno says she complained to an administrator months ago about Dennison and another teacher. "They would brag about winning Blackjack," she said. "They were great at Blackjack. That's what we heard about all the time." The college is actually just a short distance from the casino and LaBruno says Dennison and another teacher actually let classes out early to go gamble. "They released our classes an hour to two hours early many days when they knew they had students failing," she said. "But yet they were more interested in heading out to the casino." Dennison turned herself in to authorities Tuesday and was booked into the Hernando County Jail. She has been charged with exploitation of the elderly, organized scheme to defraud, forgery of checks, and uttering forged checks. She bonded out of jail Tuesday night. Dennison has an attorney and chose not to talk to Hernando County investigators about the allegations. Sanford Brown College spokesperson Mark Spencer said the last class Dennison taught was in December and she wasn't scheduled back for another month. He also said they had no knowledge of her gambling allegations.