By the time help arrived, those who Frances Perkins entrusted with her health and financial security had inflicted significant harm on the Marietta widow.
She lived in squalor with dead rats in her home, suffered from dementia and was caught between her two daughters’ estranged relationship, far removed from the days of operating a country general store and gas station with her husband, Charles, in East Cobb.
Over a lifetime, Perkins amassed wealth from family real estate investments and, after her husband died in 1992, she lived frugally by habits forged growing up during the Great Depression, spending little from her nest egg of millions.
That life changed in September 2011 when, just days shy of her 90th birthday and in early stages of dementia, Perkins signed over financial power of attorney to a man who just a couple years before had been a total stranger.
Over a period of two years, Jeff Carr took control of Perkins’ life and stole $3.6 million from her in a scheme to enrich himself, his father and his family.
“It was devastating to her,” said Kasey Libby, Perkins’ attorney who was hired to help her recover from Carr’s scheme. “She was searching for somebody who could help her. That’s what she needed — somebody’s help.”
The episode is among the largest cases of financial exploitation of a senior in Georgia history and shows how Georgia’s law governing power of attorney leaves the elderly vulnerable to abuse.
Advocates at the Gold Dome are pushing a proposal that would spell out the boundaries, expectations and duties for those granted power of attorney. It would also define when breakdowns in that agreement constitute a crime.
The advocates say the opportunity for such fraud will grow as Baby Boomers age and move into retirement, and that changes to Georgia’s law are long overdue.
“If you give someone power of attorney you want to make sure they spend money on your care and not themselves,” said Ginny Helms, vice president for policy at the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
In recent years, the number incidents of reported financial exploitation of vulnerable adults has shot up. There were 281 cases substantiated by investigators in Georgia in 2007 and 1,037 in 2015, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Overall, the number of reported cases involving abuse and neglect of seniors has also been on the rise.
The GBI is opening a new front to combat criminals who target the elderly. The agency is training at least one agent in each of its districts to serve as a specialist to help oversee abuse and exploitation investigations when the victims are seniors or disabled adults.
Many cases involve financial exploitation, including abusers who use the power of attorney to take advantage of those they’ve agreed to protect. A recent case in South Georgia involved an 82-year-old woman whose adult son, after assuming legal control of her financial affairs, sold her house, leaving her destitute, according to GBI Director Vernon Keenan.
In Perkins’ case, the elderly woman became vulnerable to a man with bad intentions when her own family fractured and fell out with one another.
“Power of attorney is not a license to steal. Some people think it is,” said Keenan, who has been a vocal advocate for the law change. “It’s a massive problem.”
A family grocery in a rural county
The Perkins clan’s ties to East Cobb run deep. The family has owned land in the Johnson Ferry Road area going back more than a century. One family member ran a nearby hardware store. Another owned a small corner grocery at the intersection of Johnson Ferry and Lower Roswell Road.
Frances married Charles Perkins in 1946 after he came home from World War II in the Pacific. Shortly after that, they opened Chas. Perkins General Store at the northeast corner of Highway 120 and Johnson Ferry Road — at the time a two lane country road.
The family sold gas, groceries, kerosene, fishing bait and livestock feed. The family home was connected to the back of the store, and was large enough to make a home for their two daughters, Linda and Kathy. Today, a sign marks that intersection as Perkins Corner.
Charles Perkins ran the family finances. He invested in or inherited other land in the area, including a 33-acre site on Johnson Ferry Road just south of what would become Parkaire shopping center in the 1970s. On that plot, he built a modest three-bedroom, two-bath house that became the family homestead.
He held the properties as they grew in value, and when he died 25 years ago, the real estate — plus thousands of shares of stock he invested in the early days of Columbus-based AFLAC insurance company — had left his widow and heirs a nest egg worth millions.
His guiding philosophy on real estate was hold and never sell. For the commercial lots he owned, he executed ground leases for businesses operating on them.
Frances Perkins adopted this philosophy and the family’s land holdings were generating more than $250,000 a year in revenue long after Charles had passed.
“When my dad died and I found out what the family was worth I was shocked,” said Kathy Metzer, the couple’s younger daughter, who today lives in Hilton Head, S.C.
Family disputes over land
Yet, money did little to build family harmony after Charles Perkins passed.
“Frances Perkins is the matriarch of a dysfunctional family,” court records would later say.
Ms. Perkins stayed connected to the community through friends at her church, Chattahoochee Baptist, and through relatives, particularly her sister, Thelma Wilson. Kathy Metzer said she helped her mother make sure her bills were paid and helped manage her finances. But Frances Perkins continued to live a simple, frugal life — often ordering the cheapest item on the menu on the occasions she went out to eat.
“Mother never realized how much money she actually had,” Metzer said. “She still doesn’t know what’s she worth, what was taken from her, what happened.”
After Frances Perkins sister, Thelma, died in September 2006, a cascade of legal filings between family members over disputed land deeds and ownership raised tensions. The opening salvo was a deed claim by Metzer, records show.
Around this time, Linda Perkins moved in with her mother. The house fell into squalor and merchandise Linda purchased on television shopping networks piled up in unopened boxes. Perkins began to isolate her mother from other relatives and friends, records and interviews reveal.
Linda Perkins said the allegations that she isolated her mother are false. She called the whole episode “a very ugly story.”
“I have had ugly things done to me,” she said.
The family conflict laid the groundwork for a thief in need of money.
Carr befriends Perkins’ daughter
Jeff Carr met Linda Perkins in 2009 and claimed to be a sports agent with experience in investments and real estate.
He impressed her with his contacts in the sports world. She said he knew Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton — Auburn’s standout quarterback from Atlanta. Over a three year period ending in 2012, Linda gave Carr over $500,000 for various business schemes and investments, records show.
“We were going to be sports agents,” Linda Perkins said.
Through the daughter, Carr identified a bigger mark.
He worked at gaining the trust of Frances Perkins “by exploiting Linda Perkins’ erratic behavior as well as the ongoing sibling rivalry,” court records would later say.
In December 2009, he was a legal witness when Frances Perkins sold a parcel at the intersection of Johnson Ferry and Upper Roswell roads to house a fast food restaurant. The deal was signed in a car at an Arby’s parking lot.
In August 2011, Kathy Metzer sued her mother and sister over two of the family’s properties on Johnson Ferry Road, records show.
A month later, Frances Perkins signed over power of attorney to Jeff Carr.
After a fall at a LongHorn Steakhouse in January 2012 put Perkins in the hospital, Metzer came to North Fulton Hospital to see her mother. They had been out of touch for a while and Frances Perkins had lost 50 or 60 pounds. Metzer said the social worker at the hospital told her there were red flags, but couldn’t go into specifics.
That’s when Metzer said she met Jeff Carr for the first time.
“I had no idea who the man was,” she said. “My impression to begin with was he was a pretty decent guy.”
Cadillacs, Rolex watches and money
But, as prosecutors would later claim, behind Carr’s veneer of kindness was a man in need of money. Before he took over as Perkins’ power of attorney, his bank account had a negative balance of $4,337, records show.
Afterward, the account climbed to $1.7 million.
Over one stretch, Carr collected 96 checks from Perkins and made out to him totalling $1.6 million. He used her money to buy Cadillac Escalades, Rolex watches and spent thousands on restaurants and entertainment. Little of his personal spending benefited Perkins.
Carr — who grew up in Alpharetta — even managed to get his parents written into a crude copy of what he said was Perkins’ will. Upon her death, they were to receive more than $1 million, the document said.
Carr’s role as power of attorney helped him gain access over decisions about Perkins’ health and welfare. He moved her from the hospital to a nursing facility in Gainesville — not far from his home. He then placed her in an assisted living facility nearby, which allowed him to show up anytime Perkins had visitors, court records show.
After a complaint, the state opened an adult protective services investigation, but Carr and Linda Perkins thwarted their efforts, court records say. At one point, investigators had ordered a neurologist to evaluate Frances Perkins, but in the middle of the night Carr suddenly moved her to his parents’ home in Gainesville with most of her possessions left behind.
In November 2012, the lawsuit over the deed dispute of the 33-acre homestead property was settled. Perkins received 44 a percent stake in the land and her daughters received 28 percent each.
“I was 100 percent against selling,” Linda Perkins said.
Still, the next month, Carr oversaw the sale of the property on Johnson Ferry Road at a price of $12 million. Carr personally wrote checks or had Perkins write checks totalling more than $700,000 for fees for acting as power of attorney and Realtor in the transaction — even though his real estate license had lapsed five years earlier.
In the end, some justice
In April 2013, Jeff Carr was arrested by Cobb authorities and charged with theft and exploitation of the elderly. His father, Joseph, was also arrested.
A bank manager was implicated in the scheme, but agreed to pay restitution and cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of the Carrs. Father and son were convicted in March 2015. Jeff Carr was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison and his father, Joseph, received two years behind bars. They were also sentenced to 40 years probation and ordered to pay restitution.
Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds’ office has seen a sharp uptick in financial exploitation cases in recent years and tried to focus attention on the problem.
In the case of Carr, it would have been easier to shutdown his scheme sooner had the law more clearly spelled out what a power of attorney can and can’t do, said John Melvin, Cobb’s chief assistant district attorney who oversees white collar crime, including elder abuse cases.
Melvin testified before a legislative committee last week, highlighting the Perkins case.
“In these types of cases the number one defense is, ‘They gave me permission to do this,’” said Melvin. “If this becomes law thieves will not be able to hide behind that defense anymore.”
Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, who is sponsoring the legislation, said his proposal has the support of AARP and the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Some 21 other states have already adopted similar laws.
As the proposal has gained attention, he’s heard from members of the public and even other lawmakers who have shared personal stories of loved ones getting exploited — underscoring the need.
“Not all cases are being ignored, but too many are,” Efstration said. “The criminals have adjusted their tactics to use these documents. We need to make sure the law addresses these types of crimes.”
‘Damage was done’
As for Frances Perkins, she is 95 and her health has continued to decline.
Her adult grandson is her legal guardian, overseeing her daily affairs. Kathy Metzer oversees her medical care and health decisions.
Now 67, Linda Perkins says she hasn’t spoken to her sister, who is eight years younger, in nearly decade. The guardianship arrangement requires her to notify her nephew before she can see her mother.
She said she doesn’t agree with that requirement and as a result doesn’t go to see her mother. Instead, they talk by phone as many as five times a day.
“I send her clothes,” Linda Perkins said. “I sent her three pairs of shoes from Macy’s on Sunday.”
Authorities were able to secure approximately $8 million of the $12 million in assets to which Carr had access. Another $1.7 million of stolen funds were recovered through restitution.
Perkins is financially secure and has around-the-clock care, but her finances are out of her family’s hands.
A court in 2014 appointed Kasey Libby to act as her financial conservator. He files annual disclosures to the court about how he spends her money and the state of her assets.
He views the case as a cautionary tale of what can happen when conflict tears a family apart.
“When I look at Ms. Perkins case her support network broke down,” Libby said. “That’s what you are going to see in any financial exploitation case….If you know something is wrong get in and do something. That didn’t happen here until it was too late and the damage was done.”
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