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May 17, 2012

Police Investigate Whether City Hall Staffer Stole from Elderly Woman (USA)

 Police investigate whether City Hall staffer stole from elderly woman
May 14, 2012
BY STEPHANIE FARR, Daily News Staff Writer

IRIS HAD WILTED long ago, around the time her brother died, neighbors believe.
She used to clean the windows of her Kensington home every morning, but in recent years, Iris Galarza, 88, smelled of urine. She wore plastic bags on her feet and stopped three times a day at the corner store, where the owners gave her food out of pity.
When she didn’t get her food there, she got it at shelters or by picking through trash cans, neighbors said.
The deaf woman’s house had none of the things a house should have — no running water, electricity or heat, according to court records. It overflowed with papers and trash, and had no fridge, sink or stove. Mud filled the toilet and tub.
“If you didn’t know her, you’d consider her homeless, but she has a home,” said neighbor Hector Rodriguez.
Now police are investigating whether the woman responsible for receiving her Social Security checks, Nancy Gonzalez, stole the money she was supposed to use to pay Iris’ bills and to purchase necessities, court records show.
No charges have been filed, and Gonzalez denies any wrongdoing.
“That’s just the way she liked to live,” Gonzalez said of Iris, while standing recently outside her own well-kept house in Torresdale.
Gonzalez is paid around $60,000 a year as a secretary for the president of City Council, according to city payroll records.
Gonzalez, 51, has worked at City Hall for 32 years. She is a secretary for Council President Darrell Clarke, after working for years under former Council President Anna Verna.
A spokeswoman for Clarke’s office declined to comment. Verna, meanwhile, said she was shocked to hear of the investigation. She said she didn’t know much about Gonzalez’s personal life but knew her to be a hard worker.
“I’m almost speechless, I guess I just can’t imagine,” Verna said. “I would find that hard to believe with Nancy.”
A larger problem Gonzalez at one time was married to Iris’ nephew, William Galarza, according to court documents. She became Iris’ Social Security representative payee in 2005 because Galarza’s criminal record, for sexually assaulting a child, prevented him from being a payee, according to court documents.
The Social Security Administration’s representative-payee program came under scrutiny in Philadelphia last year when it was alleged that Linda Ann Weston, a payee for 10 mentally disabled people, kept many of them imprisoned in a Tacony basement.
 The investigation into Iris’ story also highlights the growing problem of elder financial abuse in Philadelphia, a crime many believe is underreported. Although about 450 cases of elder financial abuse are reported on average each year in the city, the estimated number of cases may in fact be as high as 19,000, according to Joe Snyder, director of older-adult protective services for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
“We’ve been saying for years there’s a tsunami of abuse and neglect and exploitation out there and it’s been going on for some time,” Snyder said. “The one key issue is ageism. People just don’t care about the elderly.
“Number Two, people don’t think it will ever happen to them or will be related to them. Absolutely anybody can be a victim and absolutely anybody can be a perpetrator.”
In an interview with the Daily News, Gonzalez claimed that all of Iris’ bills were “up to date.”
Police say in court documents that Iris’ house had no running water, electricity or heat, and neighbors who lived near her say she lived in squalor.
The couple who owned the corner store where Iris came three times a day for free food — usually some combination of coffee with milk and soup, rice or beans — said she’d been coming around since they opened more than six years ago.
“My mother is dead and so I look at her like my mother,” said the owner, who asked that her name be withheld. “She had a home near the store, but I see no family there. I never see nobody.”
Hector and Rose Rodriguez, who live across the street from Iris’ house, said she already was living on the block of Hancock Street near Norris when they moved in 30 years ago. They said Iris never married and lived with her brother until he died.
Over the years, Iris slowly deteriorated, but she’d always still smile and wave, Hector Rodriguez said of his neighbor. Recently, Iris always had dirt on her face, seemed cold in the winter and was never in clean clothes, her neighbors said.
“The way you saw her, she was so dirty you’d be afraid to touch her,” Hector Rodriguez said. “When we used to see her around, we would say, ‘This is one of the persons the city needs to help.’ ”
Another neighbor, a 77-year-old woman who asked not to be identified, said Iris often asked for food and picked through trash cans. She said she never saw anyone visit her.

 Abridged
SOURCE:        Philly.com
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