Prison for Bucks woman who bilked an elderly man

Posted: March 10, 2010

The widowed retired postal worker, 71, had a million dollars, a white Mercedes convertible, and a worsening case of Alzheimer's disease.

The divorced nurse, 45, had two kids, delinquent taxes, and a broken heat pump in her Perkasie home.

But within four months of meeting the man poolside at his Doylestown apartment, Donna Hammerstone had weekly marriage proposals, keys to the Benz, peace with the taxman, a toasty new heat pump, memories of Atlantic City, and bags of merchandise from Victoria's Secret, jewelers, and computer stores.

"I felt completely helpless against this predator," the ailing man's daughter testified in Bucks County Court.

Hammerstone, now 46, was sent to prison yesterday by a Bucks County judge who labeled her "an opportunist" and her thefts "an offense of greed." Judge C. Theodore Fritsch ordered Hammerstone to serve three to 23 months and repay more than $15,000 she stole from September 2008 to January 2009.

In court, Hammerstone had sobbed and begged for mercy for "my horrible, horrible actions and greed." She added: "I don't deserve mercy."

Hammerstone "preyed upon someone who not only was lonely but who also suffered from dementia," Assistant District Attorney Steven M. Jones said. Instead of helping him, "she exploited him because he had money and was not capable of making informed decisions."

A registered nurse and a licensed Realtor, Hammerstone encountered the man while visiting a friend at his apartment complex around Labor Day 2008. She learned that he had acquired a substantial sum of money in a medical malpractice settlement after his wife died in the 1990s.

They struck up what Hammerstone described as a "dating" relationship - even though she was seeing another man at the time. They dined out, went to Atlantic City, attended church, and shopped on the man's dime.

Hammerstone testified that she was not acting as the man's nurse, but drove him to the doctor, cleaned his apartment, did his laundry, and looked after him.

"I was acting just like a wife would act," she said. "I was everything to him."

She said the man gave her roses every week, lavished cash upon her, and gave her his credit cards for shopping. When she balked, she said, he told her he wanted to spend all of his money before he died, saying his daughter was "an uncaring person."

"He said the sky was the limit," Hammerstone said.

The daughter, who lived an hour away, told a different story. She said she talked to her father weekly, but had just had a baby and had been unable to visit.

When she noticed her father's funds plummeting, the daughter said, she contacted Hammerstone, who claimed they were in a romantic relationship.

Hammerstone boasted that the man would do anything she wanted. "She said he was like her little puppet," the daughter testified. "I definitely worried that she might try to harm my father."

The daughter called police. She said her father, whose weight had dropped to 115 by January 2009, was now in an assisted-living facility near her, weighs 150, and plays with his grandchildren.

"After a week, he didn't even remember Donna," she said.

Hammerstone said that she had seen signs of dementia in the man. She acknowledged it was wrong to keep using his money, but did so because of her own financial problems.

"I'm just sick at what I have done," she said. "I guess I just saw all this stuff and got greedy."

Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446 or lking@phillynews.com.

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