Berks man charged with financially exploiting elderly family friend

Mar. 3—Berks County detectives have charged an Exeter Township man with financially exploiting an elderly man, using his position as power of attorney to buy guns and ammunition and subscriptions to media-streaming services instead of paying the nursing home bills for his care.

Stephen W. Bunch, 25, who officials said is not related to the victim but regarded him as his grandfather, is also accused of providing inaccurate information to Berks Heim for the man’s Medical Assistance application.

Withholding of documents listing the man’s assets, including proceeds from the sale of the victim’s home and funds that Bunch had transferred from the victim’s bank accounts to his own, resulted in denial by Medicaid of the application, detectives said.

As the victim’s financial assets drew down, Berks Heim stopped receiving private payment for his care, leaving the county taxpayer-supported facility with an unpaid balance when the 91-year-old man died in 2020, detectives said.

Bunch of the 4700 block of Alisan Road surrendered Thursday to county detectives to face several felony counts: theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, financial exploitation of an older or care-dependent person and theft by deception.

He remained free to await a hearing following arraignment Thursday night before District Judge Kyley L. Scott in Reading Central Court.

Investigators with the district attorney’s office provided the following chronology:

On Sept. 30, 2016, the then 86-year-old man and Bunch entered into a power-of-attorney agreement before a notary public for financial management of the victim’s care. Bunch agreed he would not be compensated for that role and would complete transactions on behalf of the man in good faith.

On Dec. 6, 2019, the man admitted himself to Berks Heim. The medical billing assistant asked him to complete the admission paperwork, but the man said he would not disclose anything about his finances, saying they needed to talk to his “grandson Stephen.”

The documents and Medicaid application were sent to Bunch via email a few weeks later.

When a person applies for Medicaid, the state rule for eligibility requires a five-year look-back period.

The state Department of Human Services County Assistance Office received documentation of power-of-attorney from Bunch on April 30, 2020, along with the Medicaid application. The application requires disclosure of any transferred assets such as a home, personal property, annuities, bank and IRA accounts and stocks.

On June 1, 2020, the Medicaid application was denied because neither the assistance office nor Berks Heim received any of the requested documentation.

In the meantime, Bunch made two private-pay payments by check totaling $38,769 to Berks Heim. The last was received July 1, 2020.

While the appeal of the Medicaid denial was pending, the county assistance caseworker tried to gather bank statements, burial information and other documentation from Bunch.

While viewing the man’s bank statements, she noticed automatic payments going into a Stash Capital account. Any right to income for care must be disclosed in the application under Medical Assistant program rules.

Bunch explained that he opened that account at the suggestion of his family. He said he had been taking care of the elderly man for eight years even though they are not related.

On Aug. 11, 2020, the caseworker notified Bunch by email of a mediation telephone appointment scheduled for two days later to address missing documentation.

Bunch did not participate in the mediation.

Nearly two weeks later, Aug. 26, 2020, the man died in Berks Heim.

The following month, Bunch responded to an email from a Berks Heim medical billing assistant who asked him if he was able to provide the additional documentation. In a phone call, Bunch said he had a money market savings account that was his and not the man’s, but it was later determined the account was the man’s and was opened in October 2016 with $29,000 from the sale of the man’s home.

The sale of the home fell within the five-year look-back period and was not disclosed in the Medicaid application as required.

In August 2022, Berks detectives were asked to look into suspicious transactions involving the man’s account. Investigators obtained several search warrants for bank records of the man and Bunch.

The investigation showed funds were being transferred from the man’s accounts into accounts held by Bunch.

Between late December 2019 and late August 2020, Bunch transferred $10,000 into his savings account from the man’s savings account.

Besides the transfers, investigators discovered charges Bunch made totaling about $9,000 using the man’s credit card. The purchases included fast food, guns and ammunition, Amazon and Netflix subscriptions, and other items that did not benefit the man.

Bunch also deprived Berks Heim of money for the man’s care by transferring his assets such as the home for less than fair market value; by keeping rather than selling the principal’s car; and not directing the man’s Social Security and Veterans Administration payments to the nursing home.

As a result, Berks Heim has an unpaid balance of over $22,000.

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