Nurse and lawyer took millions from elderly woman's trust fund, feds say

Casey Grove

Two men are charged in federal court with crimes related to duping an elderly Anchorage woman out of millions of dollars by taking control of her trust fund, which her husband set aside for her care before his death.

In December, a grand jury indicted friends and business partners Brian Ben-Israel, 53, and Philip Myers, 60, for mail fraud. On Feb. 22, jurors handed up a superseding indictment adding charges of wire fraud and, for Ben-Israel, charges of filing false tax returns.

Both men pleaded not guilty to all the charges Wednesday, court records show.

Ben-Israel, once a registered nurse in Anchorage and now a Georgia resident, and Myers, a disbarred California lawyer still residing there, worked together to pilfer the accounts of Juanita Gielarowski, a longtime Anchorage resident and the widow of Thomas Gielarowski, according to the indictment. The two men -- who were either very close friends or romantically linked -- emptied the Gielarowski trust, leaving Juanita destitute, according to court filings in a separate civil case. Without funds to pay for her in-home care, and with her house in foreclosure, Juanita was forced to live in a state-funded nursing home, where she died during the legal wrangling over the stolen money, according to the indictment and civil court filings.

In some instances, Ben-Israel asked Juanita to sign documents without her reading glasses, and the trusting woman abided, according to the civil court papers. He also wooed Juanita's daughter, who fell in love with him, even though he was in a relationship with another man, the court papers say.

A judge in a civil case awarded the Gielarowskis' estate $7 million in punitive damages. The results of a separate medical-malpractice lawsuit brought against Ben-Israel and his employer at the time, Meridian Psychiatric Group, remain sealed.

According to the federal indictments, the scheme worked like this:

Ben-Israel met Juanita and her daughter, Linda Stowers, while working in Juanita's home as a nurse, providing care to both women. In 2007, Ben-Israel gained control over Juanita's trust fund and, with her mental health deteriorating, made himself a beneficiary of the trust. He and Myers ultimately used funds from the trust to travel and transferred $2.8 million to a California-based company Myers owned: Typhoon Security Technology, which aimed to be a global leader in "explosives and weapons detection technology," the indictment says.

But past fraud cases involving Typhoon had caused the State of California to revoke the company's business license. When Ben-Israel and Myers were bilking Juanita Gielarowski, the company served only as a vessel through which the men could get at her money.

With the trust emptied, bills went unpaid, and a bank foreclosed on Juanita's house in 2009. Her family filed the lawsuit that year, but, as it was still playing out in court in 2010, Juanita died at a nursing home.

The wire transfers Myers and Ben-Israel made and a fraudulent check they mailed led to the wire and mail fraud charges. Ben-Israel faces tax fraud charges for allegedly filing false tax returns because he failed to report the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received.

Both men face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@ or 257-4589.