‘You have an evil heart.’ Brother faces Charlotte woman who abused his elderly sister.

·4 min read

Art Doumtjes waited almost seven years to be face-to-face with the woman who stole his big sister.

On Wednesday in a Charlotte courtroom, the 86-year-old finally got his chance.

“I said, ‘Donna, you are unfeeling and you have an evil heart,” Doumtjes said as he described the scene at the federal courthouse in uptown.

Minutes later, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn sentenced Donna Graves of Charlotte to 8 1/2 years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.

A second defendant, Maxwell “Triple” Harrison of Mint Hill, who had previously pleaded guilty to a series of related charges, received three years. Fellow co-conspirator Elizabeth Robin Williams also has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced later.

The actual details of their crimes are far worse than the legal descriptions. In October, when Graves’s trial ended with a conviction, then-U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray said the case was one of the worst examples of elder abuse he’d ever seen.

Starting in 2014, Graves and her two co-conspirators started cleaning Katherine Torricelli’s home in Indian Land, S.C., then they methodically took over her life.

They cut off the elderly New York transplant, who suffered from dementia and a series of physical ailments, from friends and family. That included Doumtjes, her brother, who lived only three blocks away.

They took over her finances, hocked her jewelry, maxed out a credit card, stole her Medicare and Social Security checks, and emptied a $265,000 bank account that Torricelli and Doumtjes shared.

Once, in 2015, when Doumtjes tried to see his sister, a member of the private security force the conspirators had hired with $7,000 of Torricelli’s money put a gun to his back and told him to leave.

Eventually, the trio moved Torricelli out of her home in the Carolina Lakes Sun City retirement community, south of Charlotte, which they then tried to sell with the goal of splitting the profits. First they moved their victim into a pricey South Park apartment and later into a rental home in Mint Hill.

When Graves and her partners had burned through Torricelli’s assets — federal prosecutors put the losses at $300,000 — they essentially abandoned her, pressuring an old friend of Torricelli’s in New York to take over her care. A month passed before Doumtjes says he learned that his sister was no longer in the Carolinas.

All the while, Torricelli’s health had been deteriorating because her handlers, while isolating her, also failed to get her proper medical treatment.

Torricelli died in a New York nursing home in December 2016. She was 89.

‘The worst part of her life’

According to the FBI, financial crimes against the elderly are a $3 billion criminal enterprise that victimizes millions of Americans every year. Many of the targets are chosen because they have significant savings as well as trusting natures that make them prone to scams

During the Wednesday sentencing the judge told Graves, 58, that she had turned the last part of Torricelli’s life into “the worst part of her life,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.

On top of their prison terms, Cogburn also ordered Graves and Harrison to pay almost $300,000 in restitution to make up for what they stole.

Doumtjes said Graves and her cohorts got off easy, that they should have been charged with kidnapping, and that the damage to his family goes far beyond depleted bank balances and hocked jewels.

He says Katharine’s abusers also destroyed or disposed of generations of family photographs, oral histories and other memorabilia that can never be replaced.

“Our whole family history is gone,” he said during a phone interview with the Observer on Thursday. “Photographs of my grandfather, mother and father, uncles and aunts ... all missing.

“It’s not the money — money’s got wings, it’s here, it’s gone. The history of a Greek family and the history of an Italian family have disappeared off the face of the earth.”

Doumtjes says he’s the only member of his family left.

On Wednesday, the day he was to speak to the judge, Doumtjes says he caught a ride to the federal courthouse on West Trade Street with two detectives from the Mint Hill Police Department, which helped break open the case.

Inside the courtroom, Doumtjes says he sat across the aisle from a large delegation of the Graves family. Given how his sister had been treated, Doumjtes said it was important for them to hear what he had to say “whether they believed it or not.”

“I think I planted a worm in their brains,” he said. “That (Graves) is not as wonderful as they think. That she is a cold-hearted woman.

“I looked at her face. It had no remorse.”