CLEARWATER — A Morton Plant Hospital clerk stole more than $200,000 from the safe of an elderly couple and spent half of the money on lottery tickets, police say.
Wanda Bryant was held in the Pinellas County Jail on $210,000 bail Thursday, a day after Clearwater police arrested her at the hospital on charges related to exploitation of the elderly, theft from persons 65 years or older and burglary.
Police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said a 74-year-old Clearwater man reported the theft from his home on Sunday. Detectives opened an investigation and identified Bryant of 1201 Seminole Blvd., Building 16, Apt. 19, Largo, as the suspect.
For the last two years, she has been a home-based caretaker for the man's 77-year-old wife. The wife has been a Morton Plant patient, and met Bryant there.
"She stayed there sometimes overnight," Watts said. "She was in the house on the weekends."
At some point, police said, Bryant found the combination to the couple's safe on a piece of paper.
"It was not out in the open," Watts said. "It was in a hidden location."
During the last 12 months, police said, Bryant entered the safe seven to 10 times without permission. All told, she is accused of taking — then spending — more than $200,000.
Bryant, 46, may have a gambling problem, Watts said. "It would appear that that was the case," she said.
It's not clear if any of the lottery tickets were winners. "I don't know that," Watts said.
The rest of the money was spent on a variety of things that Watts would not specify because the investigation remains active.
Clearwater police are not identifying the couple because of the nature of the crime.
This is not Bryant's first brush with the law. Clearwater police arrested her in March 1986 for grand larceny and forgery. Adjudication was withheld and she was sentenced to probation. Five years later, in August 1991, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested Bryant for shoplifting. She was never prosecuted, according to county court records. Wednesday's arrest was her first since 1991.
The latest charges are felonies.
Morton Plant has suspended Bryant and placed her on administrative leave, spokeswoman Beth Hardy said Thursday.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.