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Friendly helper accused of looting retiree's account for thousands

NEW PORT RICHEY — The check she wrote to her plumber bounced and it shouldn't have. The 62-year-old retiree thought she had thousands of dollars in her account.

When she called her bank, she was shown the checks that had been cashed on her account. The problem was the woman never wrote them and, according to authorities, her signature had been forged. Her Social Security card was also missing from her wallet.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office says a 38-year-old woman who befriended the retiree stole more than $46,000 from her between July 2008 and April 2009. Tracy L. Kendrick, a self-employed home health aide from Port Richey, was arrested Wednesday on a charge of scheme to defraud. She was released that same day on $10,000 bail.

When reached by phone Thursday, Kendrick was adamant she is innocent.

"I deny the charges," she said. Kendrick did not want to discuss any specifics of the accusations against her.

Kendrick — who is a felon — is accused of stealing 81 checks from the victim and cashing them, according to the sheriff's report. The Times is withholding the victim's identity.

Sheriff's Sgt. Troy Fergueson said Kendrick befriended the woman and was in a position of trust with her — running errands, doing housekeeping and paying bills. He did not know how they met.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records say Kendrick was in prison from November 2000 to March 2002 for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Other convictions were for battery on a law enforcement officer, possession of cocaine and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

Fergueson said people should be vigilant about protecting their personal information — even with people they feel they can trust. When looking for someone to entrust with housekeeping or other personal duties, Fergueson said, always go through a reputable, bonded company listed with the Better Business Bureau. He said to get referrals and run criminal background checks on potential hires.

"The best way for us to fight white-collar crime is for people to be aware and empowered," said Fergueson, "so they don't become the next victim."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Fast Facts

Help to uncover criminal backgrounds

There are several ways to quickly check whether a person has a criminal background:

• Search under "Arrest Inquiries" at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office Web site (pascosheriff.com) to see if someone has been arrested locally in the past few years.

• Visit the Florida Department of Corrections Web site (www.dc.state.fl.us) and click on "Offender Search" to check if a person has served any prison time in Florida.

• Check the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's "Sexual Offender Database" online (www.fdle.state.fl.us).

• Order a criminal history report, which lists a person's Florida arrests, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The reports are $24 and may be ordered through the agency's Web site (www.fdle.state.fl.us) or by calling (850) 410-8109.

• Search the St. Petersburg Times archives (www.tampabay.com) to see if the person has been written about.

Friendly helper accused of looting retiree's account for thousands 08/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 8:53pm]
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