A Panorama City woman pleaded not guilty today to charges that she was involved in a so-called "sweetheart scam'' in which an 81- year-old Lakewood man suffering from dementia allegedly was persuaded to withdraw thousands of dollars from his bank account.
Myrta Molina, 52, is charged with one count of theft from an elder and two counts of attempted theft from an elder. All three charges are felonies.
Molina, who is due back in court Sept. 13, was arrested Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Molina allegedly met the man through an advertisement she had placed -- using a fictitious name -- in a senior citizens' newsletter seeking relationships with men over 65, according to a statement released by the sheriff's department.
Molina allegedly led the man to believe she was in love with him and then began asking for and receiving cash for various reasons, according to the sheriff's department.
The man's daughter discovered after the man had been hospitalized for kidney failure in June that he had withdrawn $26,000 from his checking account in the first six months of the year, officials said. Bank surveillance photos showed Molina escorting him to the bank to withdraw cash, according to the sheriff's department.
Molina allegedly convinced the man to withdraw $80,000 in cash from a Lakewood bank in June, but bank employees sensed there was something wrong, refused to give it to him and contacted the man's daughter.
Molina allegedly told the bank manager she was his fiancee and demanded she be given the money in cash.
Detectives were able to have his accounts frozen and a criminal investigation was launched.
It was not clear how much money Molina allegedly received from the man.
Sheriff's detectives served a search warrant at Molina's home and recovered $5,300 in cash, along with evidence that had targeted numerous elderly men during the past two years in cities including Downey, Norwalk, Pacific Palisades, Sun Valley, Thousand Oaks, West Los Angeles and Westlake Village, authorities said.
Anyone with information on the case was asked to contact Detective Christopher Derry at (562) 906-5418.