Mental Illness, Money, and Cheats

If you read my book, CRAZY, you may remember Ted Jackson who lived in South Beach, had a mental illness, and was convinced that Jesus was returning to earth in 2007. Ted said God had ordered him to warn people about judgment day so he spray painted “Jesus 2007” graffiti  everywhere he could. He was caught several times and when he refused to stop, he was beaten by a police officer before being booked into the Miami Dade County Jail. That’s where I met him.
Ted received a small stipend each month from his family to pay his bills. He got his medication from the Veterans Administration, so even though the monthly cash payment was small, it was enough for him to live independently — until people started stealing from him.
And that sadly, that happened regularly in South Beach.
Nearly every month, someone would learn about Ted’s stipend and trick him into giving them money. He always thought these people were his friends, until they disappeared with his cash. 
I get upset and angry whenever I hear stories about predators taking advantage of someone with a severe mental illness. While we all know this happens, I received an email this week that surprised me from a woman.
Like many siblings, she had stepped-in and taken charge of her brother after their parents died.
“I asked  him what he wanted?” she told me,” and he said he wanted to ‘live like a normal person.'”
That turned out to be much more difficult than it should have been.
Because her brother was not considered dangerous, no one could force him to seek help and he eventually ended-up getting arrested. His sister hired lawyers who were able to keep him out of jail by getting him into a drug rehabilitation program. But that program had a zero tolerance policy about drugs and the counselors there insisted that her brother remain totally drug free, which meant he could no longer take his anti-psychotic medications. As soon as he went off his medications, he became sick and found himself in trouble with his probation officer. 
And there he was stuck in the streets-jail-hospital cycle.
In the midst of this perpetual nightmare, the woman’s brother was struck by a dump truck while crossing a street. He almost died because of his injuries, which left him confined in a wheelchair. His sister hired an attorney and sued the company that owned the dump truck. It’s driver was found negligent and her brother was paid a settlement.
Because she lives on the East Coast and her brother lives in a Southwestern state, she directed his lawyer to deposit the settlement money into a bank and arranged for its trustee department to oversee the funds. According to the Motley Fool vs Zacks article, the bank began investing them and collecting its standard fees.
The woman believed her brother’s financial windfall was finally going to help him reach his goal of living like a normal person. She found a handicapped accessible house that he could purchase so he would never again be homeless. But when she contacted the bank, its trustees refused to release her brother’s funds to buy the property. The trustees did not believe it was in her brother’s best interest for him to own a house given his severe mental illness and drug history.
“I was told that mentally ill people have the right to do as they wish and if they choose to sleep on the streets then — there is nothing that the anyone can do about it,” she told me.
She suspected the bank’s trustees were simply using their explanation as a dodge so that they could continue to invest her brother’s wealth and pocket fees. Eventually, she forced the bank to release his money — minus $50,000.
Her’s is the first story that I’ve heard about bank trustees consciously choosing to allow a ward to be homeless and psychotic under the guise of protecting civil rights.
I promised to send her complaint to the local newspaper in the town where her brother lives to see if an investigative reporter there might be willing to check into this bank’s practices.
Meanwhile, I’d  like to hear from you. Do you know of incidents where someone with a mental illness has been preyed on financially? If so, will you share it with us so that we can be aware and hopefully avoid having our loved ones fall victim to the same scam?
Just as importantly, do you know of ways to help protect someone with a mental illness when it comes to safeguarding money? It is a concern of many elderly parents.
If you do, please share your knowledge.
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. Toni Lea Murphy says

    This is unbelievable…I was feeling extremely helpless yesterday….my son who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder/bipolar was in a particularly bad state of mind (going on for 5 years now) I went to Borders hoping that someone out there may have experienced my same “craziness” with our mental health care system and God or angels or something led me to Pete Early's book “Crazy” I think we have the same son…Thanks Mr. Early for giving me something to hang onto.