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Ex-worker accused of bilking elderly

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies arrested the former bookkeeper of the Lake Towers Retirement Center on Thursday and accused her of stealing $55,000 from senior citizens, including some who had died.

Authorities said Friday they arrested Irene Spisak, 64, of Apollo Beach and charged her with grand theft, exploitation of the elderly and other crimes. She was held in the Hillsborough County Jail on $133,000 bail.

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. David Gee said Spisak, 210 St. Thomas Circle N, stole $55,559 from 41 nursing home residents and 13 family members who paid bills for seniors. She continued to steal from the estates of 10 retirees even after they died, Gee said.

He said the theft worked this way:

Spisak, who controlled the center's books, would receive checks sent to the center by retirees and relatives. Instead of depositing the checks in the center's account, Spisak transferred the money to retirees' personal accounts. Seniors used those accounts to buy household items such as toothpaste.

With extra money in personal accounts, Spisak wrote fraudulent checks in the retirees' names, then cashed the checks.

No one noticed the fraud, which started in October 1993, until Spisak quit last September, Gee said. A new accountant detected mistakes in the center's finances and called authorities.

Karen Keaton, director of nursing at the center, said no retirees lost money. "Never at any time was a resident or their money at risk," she said.