WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – A Polk County middle school teacher is behind bars after deputies say she stole more than $66,000 from her own grandmother.
Laura Pollard Ramos, 40, works as a US history teacher at Dundee Ridge Middle Academy, and has been employed by Polk County Public Schools since 2008.
The sheriff’s office said Ramos was made the power of attorney for her grandmother back in 2013, due to her grandmother’s declining health.
According to investigators, the victim’s monthly bills averaged $550 for lot rent, cable TV, electricity, water and alarm service. The 83-year-old woman did not have any credit cards, and spent about $200 to $400 a month on incidentals, detectives said. Her only income was Social Security.
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Ramos, as the power of attorney, wrote checks from her grandmother’s account and withdrew cash from the ATM for her as needed. The victim had a second signer on her bank account, who died in September 2018.
The victim had sold her home in early 2018, resulting in $80,000 being deposited into her account. After the sale, the victim maintained a balance of about $71,000, and stayed “within a couple of thousand dollars of this” through October 2018.
Checks and withdrawals made prior to the second signer’s death were generally “very consistent,” the sheriff’s office said. But after that person died in September, activity on the victim’s account drastically changed, according to detectives.
Where there used to be three to six transactions per month before, the number increased to nearly 50 transactions a month by November of 2018, including a series of payments to PayPal, restaurants, retail stores and Disney’s Epcot theme park.
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From November 2018 to November 2019, the victim’s account went from $66,836 to a negative balance of -$193, the sheriff’s office said.
In October 2020, the victim got a PayPal credit card bill in the mail in her name, which she hadn’t requested. She alerted other family members without telling Ramos, and the family discovered the elderly victim’s account had been emptied and had a negative balance.
The family reported the suspicious activity to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, and deposited their own money into her account to keep her from having to file for bankruptcy.
The victim died last month, the sheriff’s office said.
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During their months-long investigation, detectives learned Ramos had depleted her grandmother’s bank account and had opened three different credit cards in her grandmother’s name, maxing all of them out.
The sheriff’s office said she withdrew over $18,000 in cash from ATMs, paid her car payments, made purchases on Amazon, and used credit cards at restaurants, bars and for entertainment both inside and outside Polk County.
On Friday, fraud detectives arrested Ramos at the school where she works, charging her with six felonies, including grand theft of a person over 65 years of age, scheming to defraud over $50,000, fraudulent use of a credit card, and three counts of criminal use of personal identification.
“This suspect is the lowest of the low – betraying the trust of her own grandmother, taking advantage of her during a great time of need by completely wiping out her life savings. She’s despicable,” Sheriff Grady Judd said. “And she’s a teacher on top of it – someone who is entrusted with shaping and molding young, impressionable students. What an awful role model she is.”