Matt Pollack saved more than $600,000 over his lifetime so he could live out his last years at his Barker home and tend his garden.
But the 90-year-old man was forced into assisted living because Kenneth Heitzenrater, the man he trusted as a son, swindled him out of that small fortune. Heitzenrater was sentenced Thursday to probation.
“What was important to him was his independence and his garden,” prosecutor Heather A. DeCastro said of Pollack, who suffers from dementia. “He had a lot of money and he wanted it for later in life. That’s why he didn’t spend it.”
The power of attorney that Pollack signed in March 2010, when he was still considered lucid, did not include a major gift rider. DeCastro called that “the smoking gun.”
“Mr. Heitzenrater had no authority to self-gift, not one cent,” the prosecutor said. “In my opinion, this was a case of greed. He took advantage of his relationship with this elderly gentleman. As [Pollack’s] mental capacity diminished, so did his bank account.”
Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas said she sentenced Heitzenrater to probation so that he can work and improve his chances of paying restitution of $550,686 to his victim. He will be paying at a rate of at least $1,300 a month. She could have sent Heitzenrater to prison for as long as four years.
She warned the admitted swindler that she still could send him to prison for four years if he doesn’t pay the money.
Heitzenrater said that it would be difficult for him to repay the money.
“My snowplow business, I pretty much lost everything because of the newspaper [publicity about his crime],” Heitzenrater told the judge. “My construction business is practically nothing. I got to find other work. I don’t know how I’m going to find a job, being a felon.”
Farkas told him he would have to do anything he could find that was legal.
“It’s not supposed to be easy,” said defense attorney Jon L. Wilson. “He took money that wasn’t his.”
Heitzenrater, 50, of Hartland Road, has signed a civil judgment, acknowledging that he owes $624,002 to Matthew Pollack.
“If there’s a default, it all becomes due,” said William Ilecki, Pollack’s civil attorney.
Heitzenrater drew the attention of Barker police a couple of years ago by bragging that he was a millionaire, DeCastro said. The local officers started investigating and got the District Attorney’s Office involved.
It took two years to untangle all the records of how Heitzenrater misused the power of attorney Pollack granted him, DeCastro said. By that time, Pollack’s savings had disappeared. Diagnosed with dementia and supervised by court-appointed guardian Jill Plavetzki, he was forced into assisted living.
DeCastro, in what was believed to be the first PowerPoint sentencing presentation in Niagara County Court annals, highlighted Pollack’s modest ranch house on Quaker Road, including a shot of a closet with two garments in it. He compared that with photos of Heitzenrater’s cars, recreational and all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and businesses set up for him and his wife, Tara – Ken’s Eats and Treats and Heartland Quilts.
But Heitzenrater said those items weren’t the result of the swindle.
“The only thing that was bought with Matt’s money was the two businesses and the Chevy Camaro, which I sold and gave the money back,” Heitzenrater said.
DeCastro said promissory notes securing a debt from Heitzenrater to Pollack weren’t drawn up until after investigators from the District Attorney’s Office started questioning Heitzenrater.
DeCastro said an intern in her office, Anthony Rooney, deserves most of the credit for the line-by-line history of how the money was spent. It took Rooney all last summer. The results of his work were stacked in the courtroom – seven cardboard boxes and an accordion folder, in all more than six feet high.
“I met Matt 30 years ago and did all kinds of stuff for him,” Heitzenrater said. “I was the son he never had, and he was the father I never had. I guess I’ve ruined his trust in me. I’m sad. I’m sorry I can’t visit him anymore.”
That’s because Farkas imposed a restraining order barring all contact between the men.
“You were his trusted friend, and now what you’ve basically done is destroyed the last years of his life on earth by taking away his chance to live in pleasant surroundings,” Farkas told Heitzenrater.