Police in Martha’s Vineyard say two women took a “stolen” Caribbean cruise, after swindling their elderly patient out of money to book the vacation trip.
We all dream about traveling to the Caribbean— but two residents of Martha’s Vineyard allegedly went way too far to make their dreams come true.
Chilmark Police have charged Oak Bluffs residents Diane Caponigro and Kathleen Leblanc with larceny over $250, after they apparently hatched a scheme to buy a Caribbean cruise package with a disabled senior’s credit card. Both women provided 24-hour care to Barbara H. Roberts, an 85-year-old woman formerly from Chilmark.
In May 2017, Roberts decided to purchase a Caribbean cruise for herself and her two caregivers. She paid over $7,000 to a travel agent for a trip for the three of them. However, she took a bad fall just two months later and had to move to Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Consequently, her cruise plans had to be canceled.
In April 2018, Roberts’ family noticed some suspicious activity on the elderly lady’s credit card statements. Someone had used her card to purchase a Caribbean cruise! After trying and failing to recover the money, the family contacted a lawyer, who phoned the Chilmark Police.
The police subsequently conducted an investigation, and an audit was carried out on Roberts’ finances. Wendy Bujak, Roberts’ daughter, told police that Diane Caponigro had controlled her mother’s finances for some time. Allegedly, she became “aggressive” and “hostile” toward Bujak when questioned about how she was spending the elderly woman’s money. The audit revealed that Roberts paid Caponigro and Leblanc via checks made out to cash. This made it difficult to determine what the caregivers’ salaries were. In addition, more than $1,000 per month was spent on groceries alone, “far more food than an 85-year-old woman could eat,” police reports state.
Bujak maintains that Diane Caponigro’s recent behavior has been less than caring. She had been hired as a 24-hour caregiver in 2013, taking charge of Roberts’ bookkeeping later on. In addition, Bujak and her husband told police that Caponigro was “enraged” by the family’s decision to move Roberts to the Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after she had fallen.
A stolen Caribbean cruise?
Detective Jesse Burton eventually found the source of the suspicious cruise trip charges: Caponigro and Leblanc had apparently used the insurance refund for the first canceled cruise to fund a second trip. Once they found out that Roberts was injured and would no longer be able to make the trip, they allegedly decided to cash in on the travel insurance policy. However, they were told that without a doctor’s note, only 75% of the original cruise cost could be returned.
What happened next only confirmed the caregivers’ bad intentions to Roberts’ family.
“On Dec. 31st, 2017, Diane Caponigro sent an email to her friend and neighbor … addressed to her personal Gmail account titled ‘cruise cancellation letter,’” a police report addendum states. “The email contained a MS Word document with an unsigned Dr.’s note. [The neighbor] works as a nurse for [a doctor] at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. On Jan. 5th, 2018, Diane Caponigro sent an email containing a doctor’s note from [this doctor] to [a travel agent] from her husband’s email account. The doctor’s note looks suspicious. The text looks as though it was laid over MVH hospital letterhead on a copy machine. It is offset on an angle.”
Police then questioned the doctor, who stated that he neither wrote the letter, nor signed it. He directed police to speak to his nurse, who declined an interview.
The other side
Of course, Caponigro and Leblanc have their own side of the story to tell. They insist that Roberts gifted them the cruise. Caponigro’s lawyer, Dan Larkosh, told the MV Times that “the case doesn’t add up when scrutinized”. He has filed a motion for a bill of particulars from the prosecutor, and plans to file a motion to dismiss the case.
Although Caponigro was also charged with one count of forgery and one count of false uttering for allegedly fabricating a note from a Martha’s Vineyard Hospital doctor, these charges were thrown out at a probable cause hearing.
The two caregivers were arraigned in Edgartown District Court on Nov. 15. Both pleaded not guilty to charges of larceny. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for January 10th.
Was it a gift?
Although Caponigro and Leblanc maintain that the cruise was a gift, Detective Jesse Burton visited Roberts at the Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center to get her side of the story. Roberts allegedly told Burton that she never intended for her caregivers to go on a cruise without her. In addition, she said did not give them the cruise as a gift.
Nevertheless, a phone call to Princess Cruise Lines confirmed that the two ladies had canceled the original cruise for three, and had booked a new one for just the two of them for May 2018. They went on their allegedly “stolen” Caribbean cruise as planned.
Readers of the MV Times’ report were appalled by the news. “Well, this is thoroughly depressing,” said one commentator.
Another wrote, “Good police work! Even if the cruise was a “gift”, forged doctor’s note notwithstanding, what kind of caretakers would accept such an expensive gift from their vulnerable, elderly woman whose care and wellbeing was in their charge? Outrageous to take advantage like that.”
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Main image source: Princess Cruises
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