Inside the elder-abuse case against Orlando commissioner Regina Hill

Three years ago, Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill stood outside a white cinder-block home as workers stripped old shingles from the roof.

The home’s owner, Hill explained in a video she posted to Facebook, was a former teacher in her 90s. During the pandemic, her home in west Orlando’s Lake Mann neighborhood had fallen into disrepair, prompting a code enforcement complaint. A local roofing company and numerous volunteers worked to make the home habitable again.

“Just so grateful for community partners,” Hill said in the video, which includes comments from viewers cheering Hill’s devotion to the community.

Less than a week later, Hill went to court to take control of the woman’s finances.

And this week, Hill, 58 and a city commissioner for more than a decade, was indicted on charges she improperly drained about $100,000 from the now 96-year-old woman’s accounts to pay for home renovations, expensive perfumes, clothing, a facelift and IV vitamin treatments.

The case centers on three homes in two West Orlando neighborhoods Hill has represented: Lake Mann Estates, a residential enclave south of State Road 408 and west of John Young Parkway; and its southern neighbor, Washington Shores, where the woman’s parents lived before they died and she taught grade school.

Law enforcement officials say the story of those three homes – all of which the mentally impaired elderly woman owned or co-owned – shows how Hill insinuated herself into the woman’s life, then abused her trust.

Gaining power of attorney, as Hill did, would give someone nearly unfettered authority they would not have in a guardianship arrangement that requires the caretaker, or agent, to report every cent they spend from the elderly person’s bank accounts to a court, said Roberta Flowers, a professor of law at Stetson University and director of the college’s Center for Elder Justice.

“Across the nation, we are seeing an epidemic of agents named under power of attorney stealing elderly people blind,” Flowers said. “It’s because of the lack of oversight.”

But it is possible to see glimmers of Hill’s side of the story as well in the actions she seems to have taken. She made efforts to fix up two of the homes, a boon for the woman even if – as investigators suggest – Hill was operating in her own self-interest.

Hill said in a statement sent to Spectrum News 13 on Thursday that the elderly woman was someone she had “loved and cared for like my own family”

“I know the truth, I know I’m entitled to due process in which I trust, and I will await my day in court to prove my innocence,” Hill said in the statement.

Hill has been ordered to stay away from the elderly woman and all of the properties.

The woman’s home

The story begins at a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in Lake Mann Estates, on a residential street roughly a block long where most of the homes are neatly kept. The woman purchased the property in 1962 with her husband, who died 36 years ago, records show. They had no children.

The Orlando Sentinel is not identifying the woman or the address of her residence because of her vulnerability due to her age and diminished mental capacity.

The afternoon Hill was arrested, the woman sat on her front porch, a picture book spread across her lap. She invited an Orlando Sentinel reporter to come inside the home, which appeared clean and structurally sound. A Christmas tree stood by the front window; a bookshelf displayed photos of the woman’s husband and parents.

During an hour-long conversation, the woman showed obvious signs of memory loss, often repeating herself and struggling to recall recent events. Her mental state is already a key issue in the legal proceedings, with her attorney and a state investigator claiming she did not understand the documents she signed to give Hill her power of attorney, and Hill contending the woman did not understand the documents she signed more recently to transfer the power of attorney from Hill to a family friend.

The woman told the Sentinel she saw Hill only occasionally and did not remember how they met. In the past, she said, Hill had spent the night at her house and she showed the bedroom where the commissioner had slept. She said she did not know Hill had taken control of her finances.

“We don’t get together and do things,” she said. “It’s not that kind of relationship.”

Investigators – who have released limited information about their case against Hill so far – say Hill met the woman in March of 2021, after the city’s code enforcement division responded to a complaint about a collapsing roof and “foul odor” coming from the home. It’s unclear who complained.

Photos from the inspectors’ visit in February 2021 show water stains on the ceiling, bugs on the walls, pet feces on the floor and stains on the carpet. The inspector noted that the woman was reluctant to accept help because she feared the city was “trying to get her out of the property.”

That is the home Hill and her work crew are fixing up in the Facebook video. The county has appraised it at $182,000. In an affidavit filed in court in early March, an investigator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said “it does not appear that significant repairs or renovations had taken place,” while Hill spent the woman’s money elsewhere.

Lewis Court

The elderly woman owns a second home on Lewis Court, a residential block just east of Washington Shores Elementary School, where she used to teach. Her parents purchased the home in 1952.

The woman’s mother transferred the deed to her in 1988, property records show. It is currently appraised at just over $101,000.

In the interview with the Sentinel, the woman said she believed she had transferred the property deed to her church, which does not appear to be true.

Investigators say Hill, her son and her son’s girlfriend were living in the Lewis Court home and using the woman’s money to conduct an “extensive renovation” of the property to their benefit. There’s no indication Hill or anyone else paid rent to the elderly woman, according to court documents.

In 2022, the city placed a lien on the property, claiming unpermitted windows and doors had been installed. It is not clear what Hill’s involvement may have been in that issue. As owner of the property, the woman now owes the city more than $12,000.

This week, the exterior of the house looked ill-kept. The grass was overgrown and the outside walls appeared dirty.

A next-door neighbor who declined to provide his name to a reporter said he had seen Hill and the elderly woman visit the home a handful of times during the past year and he knew they were renovating the interior. But he said he didn’t think anyone lived there, adding he thought it was uninhabitable.

The neighbor also said he thought Hill was helping the elderly woman. When news broke of the allegations against Hill, he was surprised.

“She didn’t seem like that kind of person,” he said.

Domino Drive

In 2022, investigators say, the elderly woman signed a new legal document at Hill’s insistence that allowed Hill to purchase a lakefront home in both of their names near the woman’s home in Lake Mann Estates. It is currently appraised by the county at $286,000.

The elderly woman told FDLE investigators she did not know Hill had used her name and personal information to purchase the Domino Drive home, they said. The FDLE has suggested that the signatures of witnesses on that legal document may have been forged.

Hill has used the Domino Drive address on the financial disclosure paperwork she filed as a city official in 2023 and listed the property as an asset. But it is not clear when or whether she has lived there.

On Aug. 20, 2022, Hill boasted on Facebook about buying the house, writing that she had found a “forever home,” in the district she represents on the City Commission after years as renter.

“After my reelection I decided it was time for me to truly be a District 5 resident,” Hill wrote.

Hill thanked her mortgage broker in the post, but made no mention of the co-owner of the property.

She also hinted that the property, which was previously owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, from which she secured a loan for the purchase, needed work.

“It’s a fixer upper, but that’s what I do, fix stuff up and make it better,” Hill wrote.

When the Orlando Sentinel photographed the home on March 20, a large blue city dumpster sat in the driveway. What appears to be the same dumpster is also there in a photo on the county property appraiser’s website dated four months earlier.

In the March 7 affidavit, the FDLE investigator noted that the property appeared “abandoned” and had no electricity or running water.

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(Orlando Sentinel reporter Cristóbal Reyes contributed to this report.)