Caribbean cruise: Gifted or stolen?

Caregivers charged in alleged scheme to bilk elder for cruise vacation with bogus medical note.

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Two Oak Bluffs caregivers face felony charges after taking a cruise on a Princess Cruise Lines vessel like this one. Police allege they rooked a disabled senior to pay for the trip. — Via Wikimedia Commons

Two Vineyard caregivers are facing felony charges over a cruise package they are alleged to have secured for themselves after an elderly woman formerly in their care was no longer able to take the trip. 

Chilmark Police have charged Oak Bluffs resident Diane Caponigro with larceny over $250 from a disabled senior — a felony. In addition, Caponigro was also charged with one count of forgery and one count of false uttering for allegedly fabricating a note from a Martha’s Vineyard Hospital doctor. Those charges were thrown out at a probable cause hearing, according to Caponigro’s lawyer, Dan Larkosh. Oak Bluffs resident Kathleen Leblanc was similarly charged with larceny over $250 from a disabled senior. Caponigro and Leblanc both provided care to Barbara H. Roberts, formerly of Chilmark, court records and police reports show. Both women were arraigned in Edgartown District Court on Nov. 15, and both pleaded not guilty. 

In April 2018, Vineyard lawyer Eric Peters telephoned Chilmark Police with concerns about suspicious activity on Roberts’ credit card — specifically that it appeared Roberts’ caregivers seemed to have bought a cruise package on her card. Roberts’ family had tried and failed to recover the money, Peters told police. Roberts’ daughter, Wendy Bujak, informed Chilmark Police that Caponigro had been hired as a 24-hour caregiver for her mother in 2013, and later did bookkeeping for her mother too. Bujak and her partner, Jeff Serusa, explained to police that Caponigro had allegedly become “aggressive” and “hostile” toward Bujak over control of Roberts’ finances. Bujak commissioned an audit of her mother’s finances, a police report states, and learned the caregivers were paid via checks made out to cash, making it difficult to determine what caregivers’ salaries were. Additionally, the audit revealed charges for Cronig’s market “in excess of $1,000 per month, far more food than an 85-year-old woman could eat.” 

An investigation by Chilmark Det. Jesse Burton revealed that Roberts had intended to take a cruise with her caregivers, Caponigro and Leblanc, and in May 2017 a cruise was booked. In October 2017, just over $7,000 was paid to an off-Island travel agent for the cruise. Two months later Roberts suffered some falls, and was moved into Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Bujak and Serusa told Burton that Caponigro “was enraged by this decision.” Burton later contacted Princess Cruise Lines, and learned the original cruise, booked for January 2018, with Roberts and her caregivers, Caponigro and Leblanc, had been canceled, and a new cruise for just Caponigro and Leblanc was booked for a May 2018 departure from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean. Burton visited Roberts at Windemere, where she allegedly told him she did not plan on the caregivers taking the cruise without her, and that she did not give the cruise to them as a gift. 

Burton reported Caponigro and Leblanc allegedly tried to capitalize on traveler’s insurance when they learned Roberts would be unable to travel due to a medical procedure. The insurance refund was allegedly used to facilitate the second cruise booking. Burton reported the caregivers were informed that without a doctor’s note, only 75 percent of the original cruise cost could be refunded. 

“On Dec. 31st, 2017, Diane Caponigro sent an email to her friend and neighbor … addressed to her personal Gmail account titled ‘cruise cancellation letter,’” a police report addendum states. “The email contained a MS Word document with an unsigned Dr.’s note. [The neighbor] works as a nurse for [a doctor] at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. On Jan. 5th, 2018, Diane Caponigro sent an email containing a doctor’s note from [this doctor] to [a travel agent] from her husband’s email account. The doctor’s note looks suspicious. The text looks as though it was laid over MVH hospital letterhead on a copy machine. It is offset on an angle.”

The report addendum further states Burton met with the doctor on June 12, 2018, and showed him the note in question. 

“He stated that the letter was not written by him, and that the signature was not his,” the report addendum states. “He checked the MVH records system and could not find any notations in Mrs. Robert’s file stating a note was written. He directed me to contact his nurse … as she may have written it.”

Burton later reached the nurse by telephone. She declined to come to the Chilmark Police Station for an interview, and declined to discuss Roberts, as she was a patient, the report states.

The nurse hasn’t been charged with a crime, according to Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren. He said Burton plans to confer with the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office as to whether any further charges will be filed in the case. A call to a number listed for the nurse rang without connecting to voicemail. Hospital CEO Denise Schepici could not be reached for comment on the matter. 

Larkosh told The Times his client and her co-defendant were gifted the cruise they took. He said the case doesn’t add up when scrutinized. He said he filed a motion for a bill of particulars from the prosecutor, slated to be heard in January. He said he anticipates filing a motion to dismiss the case. 

Leblanc’s lawyer, Matt Jackson, could not immediately be reached for comment. Reached by phone, Leblanc declined to comment. Eric Peters also declined comment.