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Grandson faces exploitation, theft charges

November 11, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Harriet Shafer, a 92-year-old former schoolteacher, refused to go to a nursing home about two years ago, which is why her grandson offered to care for at her Hagerstown home, according to testimony Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court.

But relatives, police, Washington County Department of Social Services workers and others testified that Phillip Mark Shafer didn't make mortgage payments, didn't pay for groceries and frequently took money from her bank account between September 2003 and September 2004.

Shafer, 43, whose last known address was 15121 Spring Dell Road in Williamsport, is charged with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and felony theft. If convicted, those charges each carry maximum 15-year prison sentences, Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael said.

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The trial on the charges, heard Thursday by Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III, was continued until Tuesday morning. Shafer's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Carl Creeden, did not make an opening statement Thursday or begin his case.

Hagerstown Police Department Officer Eric Knode said he was sent to check on Shafer at her 236 Daycotah Ave. house on Sept. 13, 2004, after neighbors expressed concern - based on stacks of newspapers outside her door - that Shafer wasn't OK.

The house, Knode testified, was "in disarray, unclean." He said the house smelled of an odor he couldn't describe.

Terri Jones, a Department of Social Services human services associate, testified that she assisted Harriet Shafer in 2001 and then again in 2003-04.

Jones said she visited Harriet Shafer and bought her groceries. More often than not, the money Mark Shafer said he would provide to buy his grandmother's food was not there. When Jones tried to cash checks for groceries, Shafer's bank account was found overdrawn.

Paula Price, an Adult Protective Services social worker with DSS, testified that when she confronted Shafer about neglecting his grandmother, he would make "excuses."

"She liked ice cream, maybe cookies and Pop-Tarts ..." Price testified. "He stated he was the power of attorney and he could make decisions about her groceries ... He had little concern for her wants and needs."

The department eventually became the representative payee from the Social Security Administration after Price reported Shafer's funds were being misused, she testified.

His ex-girlfriend, Susan Bowman, testified Shafer would make frequent trips to an ATM near her Falling Waters, W.Va., house to withdraw money from his grandmother's bank account.

Deborah Shultz, Shafer's sister, testified that her grandmother, who has Alzheimer's disease, is living in a nursing home near Harrisburg, Pa. The bank was about to foreclose on the house when the investigation began, but Shultz, who is now her power of attorney, testified that she has sold her grandmother's house and paid her overdue bills.

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