A Marquette woman is in jail, and her sister is on probation. However, a family is still in shock over what the two women did to them. It's a case of stealing from the elderly.
Last Friday, 35-year-old Heather Walin was sentenced to at least three months in jail and two years of probation after pleading guilty to receiving and concealing stolen property of $20,000 or more. Her sister, 33-year-old Jessica Reynolds is serving 18 months of probation for assisting in the thefts and for stealing from other elderly couples. The sisters told police they became addicted to stealing in order to fuel another addiction to prescription drugs.
In February 2012, 93-year-old Natalia Broderick hired Heather Walin as a new caretaker to help out at her and her husband's Marquette home. But instead, Walin would leave each day with some of the Broderick's possessions and passed them off to her sister to sell.
Mrs. Broderick explained how her personality has changed since Walin and Reynolds were arrested in July.
"I'm scared, I'm ruined. I'm not the happy, cheerful person and trusting person I used to be," said Broderick. "And that isn't right. She took all our memories, and actually, she took my husband."
Alan Broderick passed away shortly after Walin was caught stealing valuable silver, a tea set, and a vase.
The Broderick's granddaughter, Stephanie Wellman, explained the changes she's seen in her grandmother.
"She is now timid. She leaves lights on in the house, which she has never done before," said Wellman. "She is afraid of everything, of everyone."
Doctors have said Mrs. Broderick's physical health is good, but the stress from the situation is wearing her out. The family said their holidays will never be the same without the stolen goods and the associated memories.
Walin was recommended to the Brodericks by another caretaker, who knew that Walin had a prior conviction of stealing from a 91-year-old person. Mrs. Broderick admitted her own mistake.
"I didn't do a background check, which everybody should do," she said. "All senior citizens need to do that."
A web site called the Internet Criminal History Access Tool, or ICHAT, allows people to pay a small fee to search the public records contained in the Michigan Criminal History Record maintained by the Michigan State Police, Criminal Justice Information Center. That can be used by people hiring private caretakers.
Non-profit organizations, like the Ishpeming Senior Center, can register on ICHAT for free and learn more about a person's past convictions. When people apply to the senior center in Ishpeming, applicants sign a release that allows senior center staff to check their name with other local police agencies and organizations as a type of reference check. Marquette County Law Enforcement also said they have stepped up their involvement in the process since incidents like this came to light.
In the meantime, Mrs. Broderick sticks close to her family and caretaker Bridget Kent, who has worked for the family for three years.
"Thorough background checks, references are really, really important," said Kent. "And we learned the hard way."
"That's what I want. That will be my mission on this earth: to let others have a good ending," Broderick added.
Walin and Reynolds now owe about $15,000 in restitution.
"I don't care about restitution if they are taken care of so they don't do it to another senior citizen," Broderick said. "Your last years of life, and we have few last years when we're in our 90s, we want them to be pleasant and friendly and think about the happy life we've had. We don't have that. They've taken that."