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Home nurses accused of defrauding seniors remain free


Nearly a year after the serious felony theft case against home health nurses Chiquita Lashae McGee and Sophia Monae Shepherd was expected to go to trial, no trial date has been set.

McGee and Shepherd (aka Sophia Brown) are accused of stealing from their elderly patients, John’s Island residents Alfred and Michelina “Aline” Martinelli, defrauding their banks throughout 2017 and using more than $543,000 of the Martinellis’ money and credit for luxury purchases.

McGee and Brown were arrested in March 2018 and in April 2018 formally charged with the first-degree felony of Exploitation of the Elderly and the second-degree felony of Scheme to Defraud a Financial Institution.

Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans has been pushing since August to get the case on the docket as soon as possible while the lone surviving victim is still alive. The second victim in the case passed away nearly two years ago.

But while the health of the victims deteriorated, both defendants have continued to enjoy their freedom, out of jail on fairly lax pre-trial release restrictions.

Indian River Shores detectives who investigated the case say McGee and Shepherd bought clothing and jewelry items at Nieman Marcus and Ralph Lauren stores, stayed at The Plaza hotel in Manhattan, rented a Rolls-Royce Ghost for transportation, took cruises and paid for plastic surgery and cosmetic dental procedures, charging all the bills to the unsuspecting Martinellis.

The arrest affidavits describe the position McGee and Shepherd held as one of “trust and confidence,” and say the women allegedly used the relationship forged via their employment as CNAs to, by deception or manipulation, steal from the Martinellis via “a systematic, ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud.”

Defense attorneys for the two former Indian River Home Health Care CNAs in December 2018 told Judge Cynthia Cox they could be ready for trial in January 2019, but that proved false.

Judge Dan Vaughn took over the cases against Shepherd and McGee at the end of 2018. Despite the serious charges against the defendants, Vaughn eased the terms of McGee’s pre-trial release allowing her to remove her ankle monitor and leave home to attend her child’s school functions. Shepherd had been permitted to ditch her ankle monitor months earlier.

McGee was represented by a private defense attorney, but the money for legal fees presumably ran dry. Now McGee is being represented by Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann. Shepherd is being represented by attorney Robert E. Stone of Vero Beach. In November, the defense was granted an eighth continuance due to the change in attorneys.

Evans, who prosecuted CNA Gina Albrecht, who is serving a 30-year sentence for the aggravated manslaughter of 81-year-old Marbrisa resident George May, argues that swift prosecution of McGee and Shepherd is warranted because of the age of the remaining victim. Back in August, Evans asked that defense counsel be placed on and held accountable to a strict pre-trial schedule.

Elderly victim Alfred Martinelli – retired CEO of the Penn Central Corporation and former chairman of Buckeye Pipeline Corporation – died on Jan. 17, 2018, just shy of his 90th birthday, leaving his 88-year-old widow Aline as the key witness.

Mrs. Martinelli, who court records say “resides in a nursing home and is disabled,” asserts that neither she nor her late husband authorized the extravagant expenditures.

After Alfred Martinelli died, Indian River Shores Public Safety officers and Chief Rich Rosell fought hard to get the case prosecuted as the crimes alleged represent serious exploitation of wealthy elderly Shores residents.

The schedule Evans is seeking would require the defense to complete all depositions of the state’s witnesses by Jan. 31. Then Evans wants a list of defense witnesses by Feb. 15 and depositions of defense witnesses completed by March 15. “The case shall be tried by no later than May 31, 2020,” Evans requests in his motion.

The motion was set to be argued this Wednesday. Despite Evans’ frustration over the case dragging on, defense attorneys are likely to fight to extend the time before trial. Evans confirmed that the state has offered plea agreements to both McGee and Shepherd and neither took the deal.