Vulnerable adult swindle leads to nine years in prison

Friday, August 29, 2014

On Friday, August 29th Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that Judge Pam Alexander sentenced Thomas Syzdek, 60, to 105 months for identity theft and theft by swindle for financially exploiting his friend, William Meredig, after he suffered a stroke. This almost nine-year sentence is at the top of the range under the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines.

While going through a divorce in the spring of 2010, Syzdek asked if he could stay with Meredig, who agreed. Just a short time later, Meredig suffered a massive stroke that left him temporarily unable to tend to his finances. By August, Syzdek was calling Fidelity, posing as his friend and directing them to close out Meredig’s retirement account.  After deducting taxes and early withdrawal penalties, Fidelity sent a check to Meredig’s home for nearly $58,000.  Syzdek forged Meredig’s name, signed the check over to himself and squandered the money on a Mexican vacation with his girlfriend and many restaurant and bar tabs.

“Thomas Syzdek’s behavior was appalling, but not surprising. He took advantage of a close friend who had suffered a devastating stroke that changed him into a vulnerable adult. That has been Syzdek’s history and we made sure to put a stop to it. Time and again, he has defrauded friends, family members and employers who have put their trust in him.”

Syzdek was charged with one count of identity theft and one count of theft by swindle over $35,000. In June he pleaded guilty the day his trial was to begin. At his sentencing last week, his lawyer asked for probation. But our thorough investigation not only turned up a 1972 armed robbery, a 1978 theft by swindle from an employer, a 2010 identity theft from an employer, but also a nearly forgotten mail fraud of a friend in 1988. In that case, the federal judge said Syzdek’s conduct represented “a textbook case of sociopathic behavior.”

After hearing this information and a statement from the victim, Judge Alexander sentenced Syzdek to 105 months. Speaking about the swindle, Meredig said, “Tommy Syzdek is my friend. Something is wrong with Tommy Syzdek. It’s disgusting.”

This is just the latest in cases involving exploitation of vulnerable adults. In the last year, we have had several high visibility cases. Maple Grove City Council woman Leann Sargent was convicted of stealing from her ailing father. Andrea Chisholm had power of attorney over her very aged grandmother and laundered money through grandmother’s accounts. And Gregory King dated a woman for nine years while swindling the woman’s parents out of $200,000 and stealing their identity to open credit card accounts and obtain a home equity loan.  With our population aging, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office realized that we needed to make protecting our vulnerable adults a priority in the office. In 2012, we charged 11 cases involving vulnerable adults; this year we are on pace to prosecute 36 cases.

Freeman added, “These kinds of identity thefts against vulnerable adults are an increasing problem. These cases are difficult because people don’t like to come forward after they are swindled.”

If you think you have been the victim of financial exploitation, or if you know a person who is a vulnerable adult who you think might be a victim, call your local police department.

Watch video from the press conference (video link).