NEW PORT RICHEY — Over the past three years, Frank and Jo Linda Weade kept knocking on Orm Kominek's door.
First, he said, they asked the disabled Vietnam War veteran if they could live for a year in his house. About two years later, after Frank Weade was released from a stint in prison and a work-release program, they came back, promising to take care of Kominek's house, run errands and drive him around in exchange for living there rent-free.
Each time, Kominek agreed. He met the couple through a previous caregiver, and grew so fond of them that when Jo Linda Weade came to visit him at a physical rehabilitation facility in May, he gave her a check to help her apply to be a licensed practical nurse, or LPN.
A few hours later, someone else came to see him: A state investigator who told him the Weades had been stealing his blank checks and forging his signature on them since January, helping themselves to almost $9,000 from his life savings to pay for their oxycodone habit.
"When they told me this was going on, I didn't want to believe it," Kominek said. "It didn't even make me mad, but it broke my heart that they'd do that to me."
While the 61-year-old veteran gave the Weades a place to live and occasional gifts of money, the couple cleaned his house, mowed his lawn, washed his laundry and drove him to his medical appointments.
But as dependent as he was on them, Kominek said he hoped they would go on to "do something with their lives." He paid for Jo Linda Weade, 41, who has worked at Peninsula Care and Rehabilitation Center in Tarpon Springs for three years, to upgrade her certified nursing assistant license. And he offered to pay for Frank Weade's GED.
When Frank Weade, 38, was arrested in 2008 on charges of domestic battery and violating his probation, Kominek took him back after his release.
"I figured the guy deserved a second chance," Kominek said, recalling how Frank Weade arrived at his door carrying only a garbage bag of clothing.
The Weades had been staying with Kominek close to two years when they were arrested Sunday at Kominek's home and charged with exploiting a disabled adult. Since January the couple had taken at least 40 Bank of America checks from Kominek's house, made them out to themselves for amounts ranging from $40 to $565 and cashed them, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report.
In total, authorities said, Frank Weade cashed 14 checks for $1,520, and Jo Linda Weade forged 26 checks worth $7,302.
Noticing that his accounts seemed to contain less than they should, Kominek worried that the bank's computers had made an error. He said he never suspected the Weades. Only when a bank employee alerted the Department of Children and Families to possible fraud did an investigation into the Weades begin.
Eventually, an investigator brought a pile of checks to Kominek for him to inspect. He told officers that his signature had been forged and that he usually wrote the date in military format, while the forged checks bore dates in standard format.
Kominek earned 10 medals and five badges while serving in the Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969. He also brought home post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries to his neck, back and knees, none of which stopped him from moving from the Midwest to Florida to become a scuba-diving instructor.
By his late 30s, his injuries forced him to gradually spend more and more time in physical rehab facilities. He began taking in a series of live-in caretakers, including the Weades.
Frank Weade, who has previously been arrested for traffic violations, and on charges of domestic battery and grand theft, is being held at the detention center in Land O'Lakes in lieu of $5,000 bail. Jo Linda Weade was released Monday.
Upon learning of Jo Linda's arrest, Peninsula Care "immediately suspended her pending the outcome of this matter," the company said in a prepared statement Tuesday evening.
Around the time when the Weades showed up at his door for the second time, Kominek was bankrupt. Now most of his life savings is gone, and he does not expect to recover the money.
"It's a little late in life to start rebuilding," he said. "But I haven't lost my sense of humor yet."