For more than two years, caregiver Marie Petit Louis escorted her elderly patient, Annette Reff, to the beauty shop, to the grocery store, to the pharmacy to pick up her medications.
Investigators say Petit Louis also accompanied Reff to a Wells Fargo branch bank in Coral Gables where she conned Reff out of almost $1 million in a complicated bank transfer scheme that ended at the felt poker tables of Miami’s Magic City Casino.
On Tuesday, after a lengthy two-year investigation, Miami and Coral Gables police arrested Petit Louis, 39, on charges of exploitation of the elderly of more than $100,000. Her bond was set at $250,000. She was booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Facility.
“She took advantage of an elderly female who had dementia,” said Kelly Denham, spokesperson for Coral Gables police.
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The investigation began shortly before Reff died at age 86 in August of 2012. Her daughter and the family’s accountant noticed large chunks of money missing from Reff’s savings account.
Economic crime detectives later determined that Petit Louis had misidentified herself as Reff on numerous occasions when she called representatives controlling several of Reff’s investment accounts.
The arrest warrant said the family hired Petit Louis from North Miami Beach’s Revital Medical Health Group as a full-time caregiver for Reff. But Revital's owner, Jorge Caragol, said that wasn't the case, that she had only been working with the company for about three months.
Investigators said Petit Louis instructed investment officers to transfer money from those accounts into the Wells Fargo savings account under Reff’s name.
Between February 2010 and July 2012, investigators said Petit Louis accompanied Reff to the bank dozens of times, withdrawing amounts always under $10,000 – to keep from raising suspicion. Investigators determined those withdrawals totaled $928,528.44.
Doctors told police that Reff’s mental health had taken a downward spiral after the death of her husband, and she had been taking anti-depressants.
“When her husband passed, it seemed as if she had a gradual decline,” in her mood, Coral Gables Detective Robert Wentzell wrote in the arrest warrant.
The case took more than two years to complete because the Reffs lived in Miami and the case originally was handled by Miami police. But it was eventually passed to Coral Gables police because Reff’s bank account was in that city.
As economic crimes detectives looked into the case, they were led to additional investment accounts that had been stripped by Petit Louis.
At the time of Reff’s death, Petit Louis was a regular at Miami’s Magic City Casino, earning membership to the casino’s High Rollers Club. It is difficult to say whether she won or lost, but police believe as much as $8 million went through Petit Louis’ hands at the casino over a two-year period when they say she was swindling Reff.
Police said Petit Louis told a long-time neighbor of Reff’s that the woman had withdrawn the money to go downtown and give it to the poor.
Police and family members were able to question Reff about the missing fortune before her death. She told her daughter and investigators she had no recollection of withdrawing the money or giving it to Petit Louis.