Stealing Money From Individuals With Mental Illnesses: 4 Shameful Stories

(8-5-19  It’s August, which means I will be taking a short, but much needed vacation with my family, and also finishing my new novel, entitled SHAKEDOWN. Please enjoy this blog, one from the 1,250 that I’ve posted since 2006. 

You might remember Ted Jackson if you read CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness. Ted was convinced Jesus was returning to earth in 2007.

Ted said God had commanded him to warn people about judgment day by spray painting “Jesus 2007” graffiti everywhere he could. He was arrested several times but he refused to stop.

Why should he? God had told him that he was a modern day John the Baptist.

One night a South Beach Miami police officer broke Ted’s right arm to stop him from spraying graffiti.

Ted had a diagnosed mental illness. He wanted to be well so he took medication and went to appointments with his Veterans Administration counselor. Sadly, he remained ill, often experiencing delusions and acting impulsively.

His family sent him a stipend each month so he could live in a cheap motel. During the day, he wandered the streets, often frantically dancing on the sidewalks outside night spots as exercise. Bystanders would watch and laugh at him.

Street people who met him quickly realized he received a monthly stipend and they began tricking him into giving them his money.

Ted always thought these people were his friends, until they disappeared with his cash.

I get upset and angry whenever I hear stories like Ted’s.

Consider this email from a woman who became her brother’s caregiver. He had a mental illness.

“I asked him what he wanted?” she told me in an email,” and he said he wanted to ‘live like a normal person.'”

That turned out to be much more difficult than it should have been.

Her brother’s strange behavior let to him being 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 stopped his medications, he became delusional 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 nightmare, he 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. Its 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. 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.

Unfortunately, this woman’s story is not the first I’ve heard about individuals with mental disorders being preyed on.

After a recent speech in Manhattan, I was approached by a woman who claimed her wealthy mother was having her savings stolen by a lawyer guardian.

One of the most poignant moments in Sandra Luckow’s powerful family documentary, That Way Madness Lies, is footage of her mentally ill brother explaining to Sandra and their parents why he had sent several thousands of dollars to a Nigerian ‘lawyer’ who had emailed him about a multimillion-dollar inheritance. It was a well-known scam, but the family couldn’t convince him that he was being swindled or stop him from sending more money.

I am not certain how often this happens but I would like to hear from you. Has this happened to you or someone you love? If so, what advice can you give others.

Ted ended up moving to Ohio from South Beach to be close to his family.

I have lost track of him but hope he is doing well.

I do not feel the same about those who prey on individuals with mental disorders.

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.