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Banker charged with stealing money from elderly woman

LARGO — A former stand-out high school athlete who played minor league baseball and coached at Largo High School in the 1970s is accused by authorities of using his position as a banker to bilk an elderly customer out of more than $80,000.

Richard "Rick" Paul Counts, 60, of 1718 Meredith Lane in Belleair, was charged Wednesday with exploitation of an elderly person and making false entries in corporation books.

Counts, who was a "personal banker," was assisting a Largo woman in her early 80s when he began stealing money from her accounts about three years ago, Largo police said.

Largo police began investigating in September after they were notified by Counts' employer at the time, Wachovia Bank at 10500 Ulmerton Road, said Largo police spokesman Lt. Mike Loux.

Arrest reports show Counts is now unemployed.

Counts is accused of making out money orders and cashier's checks in the woman's name, then crossing her name out and adding his own information to get the money, according to arrest reports. He falsified bank records to make it appear the money was going to the woman, according to the reports.

"It was a convoluted process," Loux said.

Police said they believe he took about $82,000.

Counts played baseball and football at St. Petersburg High School in the late 1960s.

At St. Petersburg Junior College, where he played baseball after graduating from St. Pete High, his coach once said Counts was "one of the most fantastic hitting kids I've ever coached." He had a .404 batting average and hit two grand slams during the 1971 season.

While coaching at Largo High School in the mid-1970s, Counts was signed with the former Tampa Tarpons, a minor league team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds.

In 1975 he was released from the team, but not before he hit a ninth-inning triple in a game that earned the team the northern division Florida State League championship.

Lou Sabin, a former Lakewood High School baseball coach, said he hasn't seen Counts in years but he knew him as an excellent athlete and a "super nice guy."

"As far as character goes ... this is not him. Doing something like that, it would have to be something that just flipped him," said Sabin, 77. "That's not him at all. He's just not that kind."

Pinellas County court records show a notice of foreclosure was filed against Counts in March. A breach of contract suit was filed against him in December and another was filed Wednesday, the same day he was arrested. Details on those cases were not immediately available Thursday.

Largo police said Counts used the money he got from the elderly customer to pay personal expenses, including his mortgage, vehicle payments and insurance, various credit card accounts and his electric bill.

The woman told police that she had loaned Counts $5,000 "to pay for his brother's attorney," but did not give him permission to use additional funds, according to reports.

When interviewed by police, Counts said he took the money "to assist his brother and because he was making less at the bank than he anticipated," arrest reports show.

He also said that no one else at the bank assisted him in the thefts.

Counts does not have a criminal history in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

He was released from the Pinellas County Jail Thursday evening after posting $30,000 bail. Reached by phone at his home, he declined to comment.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157. Times news researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Banker charged with stealing money from elderly woman 05/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 9:00pm]
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