In the last issue of CARP Action Online we reported on the case of Stella Wasiuk, an 84-year-old who was forced to live at the mercy of her caregiver and in a complicated deal, had unwittingly given up her house to Pauline Reid, a 52-year-old personal support worker. Ms. Wasiuk was forced to go to court to try and recover her property from the woman who abused her. CARP is pleased to report that the case has been settled and that the house and property has been returned to Stella, the rightful owner.
Here is the story from The Toronto Star, published on October 11th, 2012, to visit the Star’s website, read this story and other related stories, please click here:
Victory sure is sweet.
Minutes after a judge gave her back her house Thursday, 84-year-old Stella Wasiuk ambled out of the courtroom with her walker, stopped to wipe the tears from her eyes, and then slipped a lemon-chocolate candy into her mouth.
“These are the best,” Wasiuk said, breaking into a mile-wide smile. “They’re from my old country, Poland. They taste great today.”
The “victory candy” marked the end of a year-long fight by Wasiuk, a widow with no close family, to wrestle ownership of the $477,000 four-bedroom home she purchased in Ajax away from her former caregiver, Pauline Reid.
In a complicated deal worked out between the two women, Wasiuk provided the money to buy the house in exchange for Reid’s promise to look after her for the rest of her life. Reid somehow ended up as the registered owner and Wasiuk as having only a “life interest” in the property.
On Thursday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Lauwers put an end to one facet of the twisted tale by ordering Reid’s name be deleted from the title and the home registered in Wasiuk’s name only.
Wasiuk, who has since moved into a retirement home, is now free to sell the 2,800-square-foot house, which makes up the majority of her assets, the judge said.
Reid did not appear in court Thursday and her whereabouts is unknown. She and her family vacated the house earlier this year after Wasiuk’s lawyer served notice he was going to court to get the house in her name.
“My nightmare is finally over, I hope,” Wasiuk said outside court, giving full credit for her victory to her neighbours, Emile and Marie Timmermans, for coming to her rescue. “I don’t know what I would have done without them. They were truly Godsent.”
In an affidavit filed in court, neighbour Emile Timmermans said he didn’t meet Wasiuk until Oct. 8, 2011, when she waved frantically from her porch and asked for help, saying she had been left alone for the past two or three days.
Wasiuk said she didn’t know that she wasn’t the registered homeowner until Timmermans found out and told her so a few days later.
The Timmermans, who took over power of attorney from Reid for Wasiuk’s personal care last November, moved Wasiuk into a retirement home earlier this year on the advice of her lawyer, police and social workers concerned for her safety. She pays $3,000 a month for her care there.
In March, Wasiuk sued Reid for $75,000 in damages, accusing her former caregiver of “unconscionable exploitation,” mistreating and manipulating her into buying the $477,000 house in exchange for the home-care agreement.
Wasiuk first met Reid at Toronto’s St. John’s Rehabilitation Centre in January 2009 while recovering from knee surgery. She confided to Reid that she was petrified she would end her days in a nursing home.
Reid offered to look after her, and in June 2009 moved Wasiuk out of her luxury condo apartment in Markham and into a cramped semi-detached house she was renting in Scarborough, where she lived with her boyfriend, Joseph Comas, her son and a daughter.
Reid then pressured Wasiuk to use the proceeds from the sale of her Markham condo to buy a house in Ajax, with Wasiuk providing all the money, according to the lawsuit.
Wasiuk said although she spoke to a lawyer prior to entering into the agreement with Reid, she did not understand the blizzard of documents she was asked to sign, which led to the title of the property being in Reid’s name.
A Star investigation showed that prior to the house deal closing in May 2010, Wasiuk and Reid entered into a “home-care agreement,” which saw Wasiuk put up the entire $477,000 to purchase the home.
The agreement called for Reid to pay off the interest-free “loan” from Wasiuk by providing $800 a month in caregiving, “including food and necessities of life.” Reid was also supposed to maintain the property and pay all related costs, but did not do so, Wasiuk’s lawsuit claims.
If at any time Reid stopped providing care to Wasiuk, the “loan” was due immediately. Reid could not sell the house without Wasiuk’s permission but, if Wasiuk died, Reid would own it “free and clear of any claim whatsoever.”
Wasiuk claims she was repeatedly threatened with abandonment if she didn’t agree to Reid’s demands. In addition to paying all costs on the house deal, Wasiuk says she was coerced and threatened into loaning Reid and her family nearly $62,000.
“I was completely isolated from the outside world,” Wasiuk said in her affidavit. “I was threatened that if I didn’t acquiesce to her demands that she would not take care of me.”
Reid, a 52-year-old personal support worker who previously worked at Extendicare Rouge Valley nursing home in Scarborough, allocated Wasiuk the smallest room in the house, while she took the master bedroom with ensuite bath for herself. She took away her phone, contact list, and often refused to take her to her scheduled appointments.
She would often disappear on the weekends, leaving Wasiuk to fend for herself.
The washroom on the main floor was kept locked, forcing Wasiuk, who has severe mobility issues, to navigate the uncarpeted staircase to use the facilities on the second floor, according to the lawsuit.
Reid, who also at one point had power of attorney over the senior and was the beneficiary of her will, also took some of Wasiuk’s furniture and other possessions, the lawsuit alleges.
“On numerous occasions Reid threatened to abandon (Wasiuk) in order to exert influence over the plaintiff’s conduct,” according to the documents filed with the Ontario Superior Court in Oshawa.
Reid, who vanished amid Star and police investigations into her treatment of Wasiuk, earlier this year demanded $175,000 from Wasiuk if she wanted to sell the house. A letter sent to Wasiuk’s lawyer in July by criminal lawyer Susan von Achten alleged Reid and her family had been rendered homeless since March, when Timmermans had the locks changed under police supervision.
Reid also demanded Wasiuk’s lawsuit against her be dropped and wanted 15 days of unfettered access to the home to remove her personal property and furniture. Wasiuk claims she paid for most of that furniture and property.
In the letter, von Achten claimed Reid was under a doctor’s care for serious stress. “Ms. Reid’s loss and suffering is enormous,” the lawyer wrote, saying Wasiuk has “defamed our client and made serious allegations, or inferences of fraud against her.”
Wasiuk’s case is a cautionary tale for all seniors. The vulnerable elderly widow with no children or close friends ended up living with a cast of characters during her ordeal, including Reid, Reid’s son Justin Brefo — who was facing drug-trafficking and gun charges — and Reid’s boyfriend, Joseph Comas, a self-professed Haitian prince and practitioner of voodoo, according to one source who knew the man.
The saga may not yet be over.
Although process servers have not been able to locate Reid, and a lawyer thought to be acting for Reid did not accept court documents on her behalf, Reid may yet show up when Wasiuk’s lawsuit against her goes to trial as early as next month.