WINTER HAVEN, Florida -- A Lakeland woman is behind bars, charged with stealing the IDs of elderly residents in her care and then using them to get tens of thousands of dollars in bogus tax returns.
A former co-worker tells 10 News they had a bad feeling about Portia Charlton, 23, from the time they hired her.
Then suddenly, without notice, she never came back to work one day last year.
Investigators say in the time she worked at the Palm Garden nursing home in Winter Haven, Charlton betrayed the trust of the elderly and infirmed patients left in her care. They say she swiped their Social Security numbers and personal information to file false tax returns.
Dozens were taken, they say. More than a dozen were filed to the tune of nearly $70,000.
"For that to happen is a terrible thing," said former co-worker Christie Comkowycz.
Comkowycz said the vast majority of her colleagues in the eldercare field are honest, caring people who treat their clients like family.
This case angered her.
"That's HIPPA violations and a lot of others. I mean, that's a horrible thing to do to somebody," said Comkowycz.
Cops in Bartow found Charlton when they ran her name during a traffic stop this past Friday and realized she was wanted.
It started at Charlton's home on Lakeland last year. Polk deputies raided it as part of a bigger ID theft scheme, and inside they say they found a notebook with close to a hundred names. They were patients. The info included their age, Social Security numbers, and, next to each of those names, the amount of money that had been collected.
"Thank you, Lord," said Susan Hansell, who has a friend at Palm Gardens. She too was relieved to hear about Charlton's arrest. "Because I think people who are in facilities like this are victims already," said Hansell. "And they're there to get care and they don't need to be ripped off as well."
Just last week, Hillsborough deputies uncovered another eldercare scam. Investigators busted Devonte Jackson, 18, an Armwood High School student. Jackson allegedly got the names from his mother's computer. She, they say, worked for a home healthcare company.
Charlton has now been booked into the Polk County jail on 13 separate counts of ID theft.
Her father, Norman Charlton, is considered an accomplice and thought to be in the south Florida area.
If you have any information on his whereabouts, you're asked to contact police.