Crime & Courts

His patients were elderly, disabled. Their credit cards funded his shopping sprees, SC prosecutor says

Tristan Widener
Tristan Widener Lexington County Detention Center

He was hired to take care of South Carolina residents who were the most in need.

Instead, Tristan Addison Widener took advantage of his elderly and ailing patients, and he pleaded guilty to multiple financial crimes Wednesday in a Lexington County courtroom.

The crimes Widener was convicted of committing stemmed from two caregiver jobs, according to the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which handled his prosecution.

At one of the jobs, Widener took credit cards from an elderly dementia patient and used them for personal shopping sprees. At the other job, he pleaded guilty to writing himself a check from a 97-year-old woman's bank account and stealing her daughter's identity to open new credit cards for his own use, the solicitor’s office reported.

When Widener started the first job, at Colonial Gardens Alzheimer’s Care Center in 2016, he was already on probation for a financial identity fraud conviction, in addition to federal probation for fraud in the U.S. District Court, the solicitor’s office said.

That is where the solicitor's office reported that Widener "unlawfully gained possession of two credit cards that were in the name of an 87-year-old resident with severe dementia."

Widener used the credit cards and went shopping without his patient's consent, buying items at Coach, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Piggly Wiggly and Dollar General, according to the solicitor's office.

Court records show he was fired from Colonial Gardens in April 2017. But Widener then was hired as a private caregiver by a Chapin resident who did not know about his criminal record.

Widener stole a blank check and made it payable to himself for $500 from a bank account belonging to his employer’s 97-year-old mother, who was a resident of a residential care facility, according to the solicitor's office.

At that same job in the Chapin residence, court records show that Widener used his employer's credit cards for unauthorized personal purchases, before finding her birth date and Social Security number and using them to open more credit cards in her name. As he had with the other credit cards, he purchased items for himself without his employer's knowledge or consent, authorities say.

"The evidence revealed that Widener preyed upon the most vulnerable victims, including elderly and disabled persons," Assistant Solicitor Robert Elam said in a news release.

Widener received the maximum sentence of 10 years after pleading guilty to financial identity fraud carries, and he received two consecutive maximum sentences of 5 years for exploitation of a vulnerable adult, according to the solicitor's office. Widener received a total sentence of 20 consecutive years behind bars.

His sentence will be followed by five years of probation and "restitution for the losses caused by his criminal conduct," the solicitor's office said.

Widener was taken to the South Carolina Department of Corrections to begin serving his sentence after pleading guilty to financial identity fraud, six counts of exploitation of a vulnerable adult, two counts of financial transaction card fraud, two counts of financial transaction card theft and forgery.