Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
January 14, 2015 Session
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Coffee County No. 39310 Vanessa Jackson, Judge
Floyd Don Davis, Winchester, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tracy Lynn Carman-Thacker.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; Charles Craig Northcott, District Attorney General; and Jeffrey D. Ridner, Assistant District Attorney General for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., joined.
ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE
This case arises from the Defendant's treatment of her intellectually disabled sister, Eileen Carman, the victim. A Coffee County grand jury indicted the Defendant for one count of willful abuse, neglect, or exploitation and two counts of aggravated kidnapping. The State later amended Count 2 of the indictment to a charge of false imprisonment and dismissed the other aggravated kidnapping charge.
At trial, the parties presented the following evidence: Agent Johnny Thomas, a Social Security Administration criminal investigator, testified that his primary duties with the Inspector General's Office were to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse of government funds. Agent Thomas recalled that he was notified by the Tullahoma Social Security office about a local news story involving the victim. Agent Thomas confirmed that the victim was eligible for disability benefits "as a result of her mental retardation." He stated that the victim had been receiving Social Security benefits on this basis since 1997.
Agent Thomas testified that, in the course of his investigation, he learned that the victim's sister, the Defendant, received the victim's Social Security benefits on her behalf as the victim's representative payee. Agent Thomas explained that a representative payee is "someone who's appointed by the Social Security Administration to be [the beneficiary's] monetary overseer . . . for their food, clothing, and shelter needs." He stated that the Social Security Administration first makes a determination that a person is "incapable of handling their own benefits" before appointing a representative payee. Agent Thomas said that the benefit money is only to be used for "food, clothing, and shelter needs" for the recipient and that the representative payee is not allowed to use the money for their own personal use. Agent Thomas explained that the Social Security benefits should be deposited into an individual account, not a joint account. In this case, the benefits should have been deposited into an account under the victim's name.
Agent Thomas testified that he obtained bank records and learned that the only bank account was in the name of the Defendant, with the victim having no ownership of the account, in violation of the policies governing representative payees. The Defendant became representative payee for the victim in January 2000, and, at that time, received a guide for representative payees that listed the duties and responsibilities of this role. Agent Thomas identified the guidelines provided to all representative payees. The guidelines stated that representative payees must use the beneficiary's money for "day-to-day" needs, such as food and shelter. Any remaining money after the "day-to-day" needs are met could then be used for the beneficiary's medical and dental health care expenses not covered by health insurance or for personal needs such as clothing or recreation. Thereafter, any remaining money must be saved, "preferably in an interest-bearing account or U.S. Savings Bonds." Further, the guidelines instruct that a representative payee is "not to take a fee from the beneficiary's funds" for services rendered as a representative payee. The guidelines also contained specific instruction on how the funds should be held.
Agent Thomas testified that, in the course of his investigation, he found that from December 2006 to December 2011, the Defendant received $68, 301 in benefits on behalf of the victim. Agent Thomas stated that the Defendant's bank account balance as of November 30, 2011, was $119, 456.48. Agent Thomas identified a Representative Payee Accounting Form sent out annually to verify the receipt and spending of the benefits. The verification form completed by the Defendant in September 2009, for the period from February 2007 through January 2008, indicated that the Defendant received $13, 009 during this time period and spent $12, 000 of this amount for the victim's food and housing. The form indicated that the Defendant spent the remaining $1, 009 on "clothing, medical and dental expenses, education, recreation, or personal items" for the victim. No supporting documentation was required for these forms.
Agent Thomas identified a Representative Payee Accounting Form completed by the Defendant on February 4, 2010, for the time period from February 1, 2008, through January 31, 2009. The form indicated that the Defendant received $13, 348 during this time period and spent $8, 899 on food and housing for the victim and $4, 449 for "clothing, medical and dental expenses, education, recreation, or personal items" for the victim. Agent Thomas stated that the verification forms for the two following years were not returned to the Social Security Administration. Agent Thomas stated that, according to his records, $14, 052 was issued to the Defendant on the victim's behalf in 2009, $14, 052 in 2010, and $14, 052 in 2011.
On cross-examination, Agent Thomas stated that, although the Social Security Administration did not require representative payees to sign a document acknowledging receipt of the rules and regulations, it was "standard procedure" to provide representative payees with the guidelines. Agent Thomas agreed that he had "[n]o direct proof" that the Defendant did not use the benefits for the victim.
Debra Mooneyham testified that in December 2011 she worked for Adult Protective Services investigating accusations of elder abuse and financial exploitation. In the course of her job, she received a complaint involving the Defendant and the victim. Ms. Mooneyham conducted a home visit on December 5, 2011, to investigate the allegations. Ms. Mooneyham stated that the Defendant's property was located in Coffee County. She described the residence as a double-wide mobile home that had been "partially burned." She stated, "[a]ll of the windows had been blown out due to a fire, and the main residence was . . . in a country setting, a mobile home park type setting."
Initially, Ms. Mooneyham knocked on the front door, but, when she received no response, she walked around to the side and knocked on the side of the mobile home until she heard "a voice tell [her] to come in." She then proceeded around to the rear of the house through a gate with a "No Trespassing" sign, where she found a "small building almost like a utility shed" built onto the back porch of the mobile home. Ms. Mooneyham could hear a female voice from inside the shed but observed a "clasp and hook" on the outside door of the shed. Ms. Mooneyham asked the person inside the shed if it was alright if she "undid the wire, " and the person inside the shed responded, "[y]eah."
Ms. Mooneyham testified that, when she opened the door, she found the victim who appeared "very tattered, dirty" and with her hair matted. She stated that the victim smelled as if she had not showered or bathed in "quite some time." She estimated the dimensions of the room as "possibly 8 by 12" and described it as "small." Ms. Mooneyham said that the room was "filthy" and smelled of human waste. A toilet without a tank was in the room, but clearly not functioning properly because "there was human waste to the rim and overflowing." Ms. Mooneyham described the bedding as "filthy" and the clothing found in the room as "very dirty." Ms. Mooneyham stated that the weather was very cold the day of the home visit. She noted that there was a small electric heater in the room that did not provide sufficient heat. Other than an electrical cord that was brought in from the outside, there was no other apparent available source of electricity for the room. Ms. Mooneyham stated that there was no electrical light source or running water for the room. There were two "small, very worn puzzles" in the room and a television and a radio that did not work.
Ms. Mooneyham called the police and, after they arrived, she went and bought lunch for the victim. When she gave the food to the victim, the victim "smiled and then she ate it very fast." The victim was later transported to the hospital by ambulance to be evaluated for possible malnutrition or dehydration.
Ms. Mooneyham testified that she spoke with the Defendant in mid-December 2011. The Defendant told Ms. Mooneyham that the victim had been in the room for two days after the Defendant was unable to find care for the victim. The Defendant stated that she felt the victim "was better off there than in the street." The Defendant stated that she lived "right down the road" from the victim. The Defendant told Ms. Mooneyham that she received the victim's benefit checks and that she paid "her bills" with the money.
On cross-examination, Ms. Mooneyham agreed that there was a window in the room but clarified that the window was "very small" and one that would be "difficult" to get out of the room through. Ms. Mooneyham agreed that medical personnel at the hospital determined that the victim was not malnourished or dehydrated. She stated that the victim was not crying when she found her but was "panicked, " "wanted out of the shed, " and did not want Ms. Mooneyham to leave. Ms. Mooneyham agreed that the Defendant had told her that she was a nursing student and had tried to find someone "to watch" the victim. When she could not, she put the victim in the shed to ...