JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville health care worker has been accused of stealing $10,000 in cash and jewelry from an elderly patient who suffers from dementia.
Rhonda Watina Cole, 41, was arrested Tuesday on charges of grand theft, exploitation of the elderly, dealing in stolen property and providing false verification of ownership, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Police said Cole was one of the multiple nurses who would go to a Mandarin home to take care of an elderly patient with dementia beginning in April.
The victim felt uncomfortable and Cole later was fired, police said. But the family said they did not realize that they had been robbed until much later.
According to the police report, the victim had a safe that could be accessed with a single key, containing $10,000 in cash and valuable jewelry.
In May, the victim's family attempted to open the safe, but couldn't because someone had messed with the combination.
In July, the family members tried to open it again and found several items inside were missing.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said it's important for people to be aware of who is coming into their home.
"If anyone has parents or family members that have dementia, it would be a good idea to install security camera in the house if they do have people assisting that are coming in and out of the house. That way, you'll have a recorded document if anyone takes anything from the home," Smith said.
After the family contacted police, all of the home health care workers who had access to the money and jewelry were checked through the JSO pawn database. None of the workers had pawned anything, accept for Cole, police said.
Investigators said they discovered Cole started pawning the victim's jewelry in April and the most recent pawn occurred a couple weeks ago.
The police report said Cole pawned 28 items of jewelry at pawn shops throughout Jacksonville.
Smith said the incident is an example of why people should monitor any workers they may have in their home and keep things like safes a secret.
"If they have valuables, cash or jewelry, keep just a small amount of cash in the safe and the rest in a bank or in a safe where only the parents of the offspring would have the combination to it or have the key," Smith said.
Police arrested Cole this week after analyzing receipts from the pawn shops. Cole denied stealing the items from the safe, claiming she found the items in a bag hidden in shrubs outside the home, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Cole was booked into the Duval County Jail on a $360,000 bond.
News4Jax checked Cole's background, discovering she was arrested once before in 2000, but the charges were dropped.