CRESCENT CITY, Fla. – Crescent City Commissioner Kathleen Berg, 57, was arrested Thursday after Putnam County detectives said they found she was diverting funds from a disabled man left in her care to her own account.
Detectives said they began an investigation into Berg’s mishandling of funds last October. Berg, who is also the owner of a consignment store that doubles as a salon, was entrusted with the man’s wellbeing after the victim’s mother died in 2016. Wendy Buchan, a former employee of Berg’s, told News4Jax she knew Berg was taking care of her disabled nephew after his mother died.
“That she was just providing for him financially and setting him up for a place to live,” Buchan said. “It seemed like everything was normal.”
Detectives said Berg was responsible for the victim’s Social Security benefits, as well as life insurance payment of more than $170,000 that the victim’s mother established for him.
During the investigation, detectives found Berg took the victim to a Crescent City bank to deposit the life insurance check into an unknown account and, until April 2019, she had control over the victim’s financial affairs. Berg only paid the victim’s minimum bills and did not provide funding for the victim’s living expenses.
Between March and April 2019, detectives found the victim was feeding himself on approximately $15 a month in food stamps assistance. According to the victim, Berg never checked on him to ensure his living conditions were acceptable.
Detectives said that between the time the bank account was opened with the victim’s life insurance benefits check until it was closed 11 months later, Berg funded personal trips, shopping sprees, cash withdrawals, purchased a home and made renovations to the home. Berg did not make any deposits to replace the funds she withdrew.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said Berg depleted the victim’s personal account where his Social Security checks were being deposited. Both accounts listed Berg on the account and the victim did not have access to checks, deposit slips or bankcards.
In April 2019, another family member took control of the victim’s finances and well-being and discovered the missing money. The family member and victim attempted to contact Berg several times and resolve the issue of the missing money prior to contacting the Sheriff’s Office.
Berg is charged with exploitation of $50,000 or more from an elderly person or disabled adult. She turned herself in the Putnam County Jail and was released on a $20,000 bond.
“It is reprehensible that a person could take advantage of another person dependent on them to live. It is even worse when the person entrusted with care is a public figure in our community,” Sheriff H.D. ‘Gator’ DeLoach said.
News4Jax reached out to Berg for comment but had not heard back as of Thursday evening. News4Jax is also awaiting a response from the city to find out what her fate is as a commissioner.
“I’m a little surprised and shocked, and it’s kind of devastating for the community because it’s one of our commissioners and it’s a small town, so it’s very disheartening,” Berg’s former employee said.