He's 87 years old. She's 90. They lived together in their Wichita house, as they had for most of the past decade. Both suffered from dementia, and they were willing to give money to the men who visited them daily. The couple would write checks, $20 to $50 or more at a time. For years.
This fall, John Michael Smith and James D. Blanton pleaded guilty to mistreatment of dependent adults, together taking more than $228,000 from the couple, authorities said.
It ended the first case handled by a task force on elder abuse started last fall by the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office. It's called the Financial Abuse Specialist Team, or FAST.
Beginning last year, the team brought together volunteer social workers, elder caregivers and financial specialists to help investigate cases involving people trying to rip off older adults.
Prosecutor Tania Groover said the task force was created to provide the expertise needed in what can be complex investigations.
"That's the benefit of our FAST team in having all of our experts coming together," Groover said. "We're all in the same room putting our heads together and making these cases stronger for prosecution."
This first case needed an accountant to crack what turned out to be an unusual paper trail.
A record of checks
Wichita police Detective Brad Bryant said a colleague approached him with a tip about the elderly couple.
"They didn't have a real good memory," Bryant said. "And they (the two men) would come to them to tell them they'd bought cars, and they had done this or that and would come to them to get money."
Most of the checks were made to cash.
But the 90-year-old woman had a habit of writing notes. She had kept the date, amount of money and who they gave it to.
The notes listed some as IOUs. One man took $20 marked for trips to Colorado or Wisconsin. Another note said the money was "to live until Friday."
Smith claimed to be a distant relative, Bryant said.
Blanton later told the detective the men used the money to buy drugs.
Records show the men would visit the couple and take money from them three to four times a week.
"In many instances, they would hit this couple five, six, seven times a day," Bryant said.
Building the case
Dana Gouge, an investigator for the District Attorney's Office, took the big, gray plastic tub of the woman's notes — some only an inch or two in size.
"They were little tiny pieces of paper," said prosecutor Tania Groover.
The tub held nearly 2,000 scraps of paper. While recovering from knee surgery, Gouge began sorting through them and entering them into a spreadsheet.
But this case was broken by an accountant. Chris Cavanaugh, an auditor at Wichita State University, is one of the FAST team's volunteers.
"If it hadn't been for the receipts, this would have been a lot more difficult," said Cavanaugh, a certified public accountant.
Gouge also obtained four years of bank statements from the couple.
"The amount of the withdrawals matched up with the receipts," Cavanaugh said. "But here was a guy with a small pension and Social Security. The question was, 'Where was all this money coming from?' "
Gouge got more records from the bank, and it turned out the couple had a sizable investment income.
"Except for two small reimbursements, there was no evidence any of this was repaid," Cavanaugh said.
There was one $25 check from Smith as a Christmas present. Another check for $2 came from the county jail.
"We don't know how they found their way into their lives," Groover said.
"It was a free ATM," she said.
Gouge gave the information to Bryant, who ordered Smith and Blanton's arrest.
Blanton pleaded guilty to taking $28,161.65. He's scheduled for sentencing Friday before Judge Warren Wilbert.
Smith pleaded guilty to taking $199,958.55. He's set for sentencing Dec. 21 before Judge Ben Burgess.
Both face prison.
The FAST team also received help from psychologist Stephen Benson, Groover said. A team member from the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services helped get the couple proper guardians.
Bryant said that without the task force, the case might never have been charged.
"Had one detective had to sit down and go through all this, he might still be working on it today," Bryant said.
Groover said authorities know many other cases are never reported. They continue to try to educate people to watch out for elderly neighbors and family members, especially from those trying to take their money.
Said Groover: "With public awareness, we now feel like we're where we were 30 years ago with child abuse and domestic violence."