In 2015, 83-year-old Rosa Rideout retained Nightingale Home Support and Care to provide her with a professional caregiver.
Instead, they sent her a professional fraudster already known to law enforcement as the “Sweetheart Swindler.”
Previous Criminal History
According to Imperative’s Critical Criminal Background Investigation on the Sweetheart Swindler, Tonya Weiss’ criminal behavior started decades before she was sent to care for Ms. Rideout and includes:
- December 1991: Theft and forgery
- December 1996: Felony theft
- January 1997: Exploitation of an elderly or disabled adult ($100,000 or more)
- November 1997: Aiding escape, obstructing justice, and forgery
- September 2000: Attempted forgery
- November 2000: Felony grand theft
- January 2003: Theft from an elderly person and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
The Elderly’s Worst Nightmare
“What a pedophile is to children, Tonya Weiss is to the elderly,” investigator Dave Kessler told the Columbus Dispatch in 2012.
Kessler worked on several cases relating to Weiss as an investigator for the Ohio state attorney general’s office.
Kessler further articulated Weiss’ history in the 2012 Dispatch article:
Crimes among her previous convictions include stealing nearly $500,000 from an elderly man in Florida and, later, more than $200,000 from the mail sent to patients at the Columbus Alzheimer’s Care Center, where she worked as the business manager.
Weiss had last spent five years in prison for defrauding two elderly men out of $30,000 while corresponding with them from the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. She was serving time there after being convicted in 2000 of taking thousands of dollars from a 75-year-old widower in Ross County.
She was released in 2008 and immediately married an old family friend, said Kessler, who had investigated both the Ross and Union county cases. It was the new marriage that kick-started this latest case.
Weiss quickly rang up credit-card charges and tinkered with her husband’s finances. He and his relatives noticed. He divorced her.
So, Kessler says, Weiss took on the alias of Wanda Elliott and began a campaign to discredit the man and another woman — a parishioner from his church who had lived with them. Over time, she consistently and repeatedly called schools, social-service agencies and police agencies in multiple counties to spread lies about them and to try to get them in trouble.
She was living in New Holland, on the Fayette/Pickaway county line at the time. But in her quest to find an authority who would listen, she called Job and Family Services in Fairfield County. A supervisor recognized the caller’s voice as that of Weiss. It was the voice on recordings of Weiss that Kessler uses during his elder-abuse training sessions.
“She works so hard at these scams, at these cons, that in her heart she believes she is entitled to everything she takes,” Kessler told the Dispatch.
With such a colorful history, it should be no surprise that once Weiss was introduced to Ms. Rideout, she immediately initiated a new campaign of fraud.
According to a News 5 Cleveland story, Ms. Rideout’s family claims that Weiss quickly bilked Ms. Rideout, who suffers from dementia, of over $25,000:
Within weeks alarms went off.
“My mother was asking for money, regularly,” he said he was asked to authorize hundreds of dollars in unaccounted expenses every couple of weeks.
Thousands of dollars were missing before he searched the internet and read the headline, “Tonya Weiss, The Sweetheart Swindler.”
“I was just alarmed because I hired her from an agency,” he said. “This con artist could have cleaned her out, and Nightingale is to blame for not properly checking her background,” he said.
Perhaps because of Ms. Rideout’s dementia, which often presents challenges in prosecuting fraud against the elderly, the Sweetheart Swindler was never criminally charged in this case.
However, the Rideout family did sue Nightingale Home Support and Care, Inc. , the company that placed Weiss with Ms. Rideout.
That lawsuit was later settled and the Rideout family was awarded an undisclosed amount.
Sadly, according to News 5 Cleveland, “the Rideout family says they never received a dime.”
And the Sweetheart Swindler is free to go find her next victim.
Families hiring home healthcare workers, nannies, or other domestic help should always be skeptical of the background checks staffing firms provide, said Mike Coffey, president of Imperative, the parent company of PFC Caregiver Services.
“Most staffing agencies—even those charging significant placement fees—skimp on their background checks,” said Coffey.
“If the agency isn’t a PFC Caregiver Services client, they are probably running a cheap background check,” he warned.
“They’re just hoping that the $30 instant background check they purchased online will be good enough,” according to Coffey. “The reality is that those instant checks miss 70% or more of the available criminal records,” he said.
Families should ask staffing agencies for a written description of what is included in their background check as well as the name of their background screening firm. They should also insist that the staffing firm share the results of the background check with the family, with the approval of the prospective employee.
Alternatively, families can purchase thorough and reliable background checks on caregivers by clicking on the Order Now button.