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DHS worker, funeral salesman accused of stealing money from Rogersville nursing home resident

June 8th, 2007 12:00 am by Jeff Bobo

ROGERSVILLE - A Tennessee Department of Human Services worker and a man who sells prearranged funerals have been indicted in Hawkins County for allegedly conspiring to steal more than $10,000 from an elderly nursing home resident.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman said Thursday that Scottie D. Lee, 34, 225 John St., Rogersville, met the victim, Mary Lena Mabe, 72, when he sold her a prearranged funeral from Colboch-Price Funeral Home in Rogersville three years ago.

Mabe was living at the Rogersville Care and Rehabilitation Center at that time and continues to live there.

TBI spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said Harriet L. Johnson, 56, 345 Old Route 113, Rogersville, was employed at the Department of Human Services as a TennCare eligibility coordinator in 2004 when the thefts began, and that's how she became acquainted with Mabe.

"We don't know the circumstances that brought Lee and Johnson together in this scheme, but around October of 2004 they convinced the victim to give them co-power of attorney over her estate," Jennifer Johnson said. "We're alleging that beginning in October of 2004 and continuing until August of 2005 Lee and Johnson began withdrawing funds from the victim's bank account for their personal use."

Jennifer Johnson said the thefts came to the attention of the TBI in 2005 after a state-appointed ombudsman assigned to oversee the finances of nursing home residents reported the thefts to Attorney General Berkeley Bell's office.

Lee was named in sealed Hawkins County grand jury indictments Friday on 17 counts of theft and 17 counts of money laundering.

Harriet Johnson was named in sealed indictments Friday on two counts of theft and two counts of money laundering.

Those sealed indictment arrest warrants were served on Harriet Johnson and Lee at their places of employment Wednesday.

Lee is accused of making 17 ATM withdrawals from Mabe's bank account ranging from $100 to $1,000. Harriet Johnson is accused of cashing two checks from Mabe's account in the amount of $1,200 each.

While the alleged thefts could land the pair in prison on sentences of between a year and two years for each offense if they are convicted, Bell told the Times-News Thursday it's the money laundering charges that carry their major penalty.

Bell explained that the couple used the stolen funds to pay bills - house payments, car payments, etc. - and in doing so attempted to conceal the illegal source of the stolen funds, constituting money laundering.

Money laundering is a Class B felony punishable by eight to 12 years on each count.

Bell said Mabe is in poor health and not completely competent, and he alleges that Lee and Harriet Johnson took advantage of her vulnerable condition.

Lee and Harriet Johnson were each released from the Hawkins County Jail on bond Wednesday - Lee on $50,000 and Johnson on $40,000.

They are expected to be arraigned in Hawkins County Circuit Court on Aug. 31.

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