Crime & Courts

Church 'friend' preyed on elderly woman, sheriff says

A 46-year-old woman who met an elderly woman at church, befriended her and then allegedly made off with her property now faces criminal changes.

Mary Jane Vail is charged with receiving stolen goods, financial transaction card fraud, and obtaining signature or property under false pretenses, said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Lott said late last December an 86-year-old Richland County woman reported three expensive rings were stolen from her home, all valued over $1,000 and that her bank card was used more than seven times at local retailers.

An investigation turned up evidence that Vail, who spent much time in the victim’s home helping her with chores, stole the items while visiting the home, Lott said.

Lott said Vail has an extensive criminal record the victim didn’t know about.

Vail “preyed on this vulnerable adult taking advantage of her by befriending the victim and pretending that she wanted to help her,” Lott said.

Lott asked that citizens do a thorough background check on anyone that you have work for you, verify references and find out as much information as you can before you allow them into your home and family.

The Sheriff's Department Project H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Precious Elderly) Program exists to help the elderly, he said.

This program services more than 600 Richland County residents each month, with officers visiting the elderly and disabled each month.

During their visits to the home, our officers perform a variety of functions. They conduct safety checks of the home, such as putting in smoke detectors or replacing smoke detector batteries. They also put street numbers on their homes so emergency personnel and other programs, like Meals on Wheels, can easily find them.

John Monk