Monday, May 26, 2014

The Last Responsibility

The security guard passed me, close enough to touch, as I exited the courtroom. For a moment I was tempted, like Lot's wife, to turn around and watch as the defendant was handcuffed and taken into custody, but I didn't. I spilled through the doors to Courtroom 306 into the hallway with the rest of the observers and witnesses to stand for a few minutes in stunned silence before we went into the rest of our lives.

I walked the two blocks from the courtroom to the parking structure. Across the street, a small farmers' market offered fresh spring produce. The early afternoon sunshine warmed the sidewalk, causing little wisps of steam to rise from the wet spots in the gutter. My heels clicked as I walked. I normally wear flats, but today I wore heels.

As I entered the glass-fronted elevator and pushed the button to the third floor, I thought, "My mother always wore heels."

My mother had died two years and five months before, almost to the day. Today marked the end of a betrayal, the end of seemingly endless time spent in criminal investigations and the justice system but most of all, it marked the end of my responsibilities toward my mother. 

(Read the story behind the story here.)

It began when I quit my full-time job to work as a free-lancer and become her caregiver.  I was her only child and there was no one else to care for her. Her health was poor, she was in her late 80s and was not expected to live too long.

She had some money from the sale of her house in a savings account that she wanted to keep “in case of an emergency.” As paying for her care, including numerous hospitalizations and surgeries, got more and more difficult, I finally made the decision to ask her loved and trusted financial advisor to invest that money in something that would give her a modest return so I could have some help in paying the bills.

He took the money--and that's when the nightmare began. For four more years, I struggled to give her the quality of end of life we all deserve, all the while the quality of my own life was spiraling downward. She declined slowly, inexorably, spending nearly one year on hospice--meaning that every night for months on end I went to bed expecting to receive a call telling me she was gone.

During these months, her financial planner continued to tell me that things would turn out okay in the end, even though the "nest egg" that I had given him had been lost in bad investments. I trusted him, because I was too exhausted and grief-ridden to question.

Then one night in January 2012, after I had been assured by hospice that she still had some time left, the phone rang at 3 am. She was gone and for once I was not there.  I was devastated and racked with guilt.

Her advisor attended her funeral and came to my home afterwards and met with my closest friends and family. A few days later, I got a call from a detective who came to my home and helped me realize that my mother’s money had not been invested, but stolen. The investor had put half into his personal checking account, which was overdrawn at the time, and used it to make payments on his Porsche, pay his children’s private school tuition, and pay on a personal credit card. The other half he used to shore up a failing business he owned to get others to invest in it.

For the next two years, through a series of legal manuervers and wrangling, he managed to avoid trial and remain free. I ran into him once at Costco and slipped behind the tv display to avoid a confrontation. I had begun to think he would never be accountable for his crimes--which included stealing nearly one million dollars from nine clients, including my mother, and much more in security fraud from others. 
But the end finally came. When the judge passed the sentence, one of the first things she said was "How could anyone have to gall to attend a funeral when he knew he had stolen her money?" I have no answer to that, other than to recognize that once you start down the path to deceit and crime, the slope rapidly becomes steeper and more slippery. His actions affected, not just me and the others he robbed, but our families--and his family as well. Like ripples in a lake, the evil spread and spread, creating waves of pain and sorrow on far distant shores. 

These past two years have been the hardest ime of my life,  not just because of the financial stress, which has been considerable, but because I could never come to true closure about my mother's death because this, my last responsibility to see that justice was done in her name, was with me every single day.

I was tempted to watch as he was handcuffed, but that would have meant continuing to look backwards. 

Now it's time to move forward.