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October 18, 2012 at 5:12 PM

Charge dismissed against Seattle caregiver accused of theft

Citing the need for additional investigation, King County prosecutors today dismissed a first-degree theft charge against a West Seattle caregiver who was accused of stealing $50,000 from a 91-year-old survivor of a Nazi death camp.

Mary Celeste Park, 54, was charged in August with stealing at least $50,000 that Hermine and Emanuel Berner had hidden in their home.

Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, issued a statement that read, “after gathering additional information on this case, we have concluded that additional investigation by law enforcement is required before proceeding. We will work to gather that information so we can determine whether or not to re-file the charge.”

Seattle defense attorney John Henry Browne, who is representing Park, said “this case stunk from the beginning.”

“Mary Park wouldn’t take a postage stamp. She was heartbroken when she was charged with these offenses,” Browne said. “The alleged victim has dementia, so I don’t know if there was ever money there. I don’t know if the state can even prove that.”

Browne said that he has been pushing for weeks for the case to be dismissed.

“This has cost her a great deal for her reputation and cost her a great deal in legal fees,” Browne said.

According to charging documents, Park was hired to care for the Berners two hours a day for $12 an hour.

Hermine Berner, who survived incarceration at Auschwitz and a Nazi labor camp during World War II, accused Park of stealing money after Berner discovered $50,000 was missing from inside a baking dish in the pantry of her home. Park called the couple’s daughter, Judy Townsend, to report that her mother was getting “confused,” according to charging documents.

In late July, Townsend fired Park and contacted Seattle police after she couldn’t find the missing $50,000, or other money the Berners had hidden, as well as jewelry.

Townsend said that she has tried, for years, to persuade her parents to not keep so much money at home. But, she said, her mother, as well as her father, who lost everything in the Depression, thought she was doing the right thing.

After surviving WW II, Hermine Berner and a sister lived on gold and other items their mother had buried in the barn of their farm in Czechoslovakia. Without the stash, the family might not have made it, Townsend said.

Berner always remembered her mother’s repeated advice: Stow away some money at home in case there’s a problem with the banks or trouble with the government.

Townsend is angry that charges were dismissed. She said that prosecutors told her that her mother shouldn’t take the witness stand because of her dementia.

“My mom is with it enough to know what was done to her,” Townsend said. “This breaks my heart. It makes me sick.”

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Seattle


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