Detective accuses caregiver of being untruthful

By Peter H. Milliken


A detective accused David J. Venerose Jr. of not being truthful on the witness stand about funeral arrangements for 89-year-old Geraldine Burke, improvements he said were made to her home and purchases of Hollywood memorabilia he made with her money.

A Mahoning County grand jury indicted Venerose, 40, of Sheridan Road, on Thursday on one count of passing $8,600 worth of bad rent checks for a Boardman bar he used to operate and three counts of perjury.

Detective Ben Switka of the Boardman Police Department investigated the case for the bad-check charge, and Detective David Benigas of the county sheriff’s department investigated the perjury allegations. The case is being prosecuted by Nicholas Modarelli, an assistant county prosecutor.

Venerose could not be reached to comment Friday.

The perjury counts allege that Venerose lied under oath in a March 9, 2009, guardianship hearing in the county’s probate court concerning Burke, who lived in Boardman before being moved to a Youngstown nursing home. Venerose had been a caregiver for Burke, who has dementia.

Venerose and Burke opened a joint checking account in which $29,260 was deposited from cashing in Burke’s life-insurance policies and $36,809 was deposited from a reverse mortgage on Burke’s residence, Benigas said.

That $66,069 total was depleted before the guardianship hearing, Benigas said. The sum nearly equals the $67,560 in legal fees and restitution to Burke’s guardianship estate Venerose agreed to pay over the next 16 years in a settlement of a concealment-of-assets complaint against him in probate court.

One perjury count alleges Venerose falsely testified he took $10,000 from the bank account to pay for pre-planned funeral arrangements for Burke at Fox Funeral Home in Boardman.

In reality, Benigas said funeral home staff told him there were no $10,000 arrangements. Instead, Benigas said funeral home staff told him Venerose brought them a $2,150 life-insurance policy she had signed over to make pre-arrangements for her cremation. Benigas said he doesn’t know what Venerose really bought with the $10,000.

A second perjury count alleges Venerose falsely testified he used the joint bank account to buy three reclining lift chairs for Burke, a scooter, a home medical-alert system, a new clothes washer, a couch and a refrigerator, to pay for other caregivers, for painting and plumbing upgrades to two doors and for handicapped-accessibility improvements to her house.

Venerose, however, had no receipts to document any of those expenditures; the company he said did the home-improvement work didn’t exist; and no permits were issued for any of the reported home-improvement work, Benigas said.

A witness said none of the reported work was done, and Benigas said he visited Burke’s former residence and saw “no evidence whatsoever” of the improvements Venerose claimed were performed.

The third perjury count alleges Venerose falsely testified Burke signed a check from the joint checking account for $7,532 that was sent to Profiles in History, a California-based Hollywood memorabilia company, and that he had never heard of that company.

In fact, Benigas said Venerose was a registered bidder who bought some memorabilia in the company’s online auction and had the items delivered to his residence. The company supplied e-mails in which Venerose asked the company for more time to pay.

When asked whether any criminal charges would be filed against Venerose in the disappearance of Burke’s assets, Benigas said, “That’s a question we’ve been pondering.”

The prosecution appears to be at a disadvantage there because Burke no longer can be a competent witness as to what she did or did not authorize Venerose to do with the money in their joint bank account, Benigas said.

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