DRUMRIGHT, Okla. - A former nursing home administrator was charged with financial exploitation after she allegedly diverted nearly a quarter of a million dollars from elderly residents to support her gambling habit.
Tina Lee Pearson, 57, was charged in Creek County late last week with one count of financial exploitation by a caretaker, stemming from a state investigation by the attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Pearson was arrested and bonded out of custody prior to a bond setting hearing, according to jail and online court records.
Pearson is accused of withdrawing more than $217,750 in cash from at least 33 Drumright Nursing Home resident's accounts between January 2012 and October 2015.
"In terms of crimes, it’s among the worst. Instead of taking care of somebody, you’re taking advantage of them," said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. "And for somebody to be living out their golden years, and having a comfort level of confidence the people there are taking good care of them, and then to discover that’s not happening, it’s pretty heartbreaking."
When News 4 spoke with Pearson at her Drumright home Tuesday afternoon, she declined comment and deferred to her attorney. Multiple attempts to reach her attorney at his office and by phone Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Court documents say the investigation started when the Oklahoma Attorney General's office received a tip in February 2016 from the nursing home's then-administrator about possible financial exploitation by Pearson.
"In early 2016, the facility became aware of financial irregularities involving a previous nursing home administrator, Tina Lea Person, who had departed in October 2015. Those irregularities were reported immediately to the Department of Health and our facility has improved its auditing processes and financial safeguards since that time," said Brittany Edwards, the current administrator of the 133-bed facility, in an emailed statement.
"Our management and staff have cooperated fully with the investigation into Ms. Pearson and we will continue to support the attorney general’s office."
Pearson, who had worked for the nursing home off and on for roughly 27 years, worked as the administrator from 2005 to October 2015. Part of that job included the nursing home's bookkeeping and Pearson was the only authorized person who had check-writing access for the resident's accounts during that time, according to court documents.
Fund sources -- including payments from residents, their families, retirement funds, social security, pensions and state tax dollars -- are to be placed into each resident's trust account, and payments for the resident's care to be paid from the Resident Trust Account (RTA) to the nursing home via check.
"Nursing homes, essentially, aggregate everybody’s money in a common account, and there are ledgers that are kept for each individual resident," Hunter said. "When the new nursing home administrator assumed responsibilities there, she discovered evidence there had been embezzlement."
According to an arrest warrant, Pearson withdrew funds, wrote checks to herself, checks to cash, and converted the money for personal use, and none of the amounts matched with residents' required nursing home payments.
When interviewed by investigators this past winter, Pearson "admitted to cashing the RTA checks and diverting the cash to her own use." After she initially told investigators she didn't know why she took the money, she "later admitted it was to support her gambling problem" and would give up her administrator's license and pay the money back.
At the end of the interview, court document say Pearson agreed she had been carrying a big burden for the last few years.
"I'm glad it's over," she said.