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Woman who took thousands from 97-year-old with dementia owns expensive lakefront cottage, downtown condo

A woman who said she took tens of thousands of dollars from a 97-year-old with dementia because she needed the money owns a waterfront cottage on Lake Huron that a neighbour says is worth as much as $1 million, along with a condo in downtown Toronto.

Neighbour says land value alone of Lake Huron property is between $800,000 and $1M

Theresa Gardiner took $78,000 from Christine Fisher's accounts. She says the 97-year-old woman in the early stages of dementia wanted her to have the money and Gardiner says she needed the funds because her husband was terminally ill. (@corncounty/Twitter)

A woman who said she took tens of thousands of dollars from a 97-year-old with dementia because she needed the money owns a waterfront cottage that a neighbour says is worth as much as $1 million.

Theresa Gardiner, 73, took a total of $78,000 from the accounts of Christine Fisher, then 95, between April and August 2018, including a cheque for $20,000 she wrote to herself. Gardiner had power of attorney for Fisher. 

Police charged Gardiner with six counts of theft in July 2019 but the Crown withdrew the charges in November when Gardiner agreed to pay $20,000 in restitution. The Crown said it was "duty-bound to withdraw … if there is no reasonable prospect of conviction."

Critics say the case exposes a gap in the system because there are no protocols in the financial system to monitor someone with power of attorney. And criminal cases can often fall apart because the victim is either medically unable or unwilling to testify.

Gardiner, who said she has known Fisher for 50 years, told CBC News she began helping Fisher with errands in 2016, because Fisher, then 94, was struggling with the early stages of dementia.

Fisher gave Gardiner power of attorney over her financial matters in 2017. (Submitted by Nancy Lewis)

Fisher gave Gardiner power of attorney over financial matters in June 2017. Gardiner printed the document off the Service Ontario website. One of the witnesses was another resident of Fisher's seniors residence.

Gardiner said Fisher wanted her to have the $78,000. Gardiner said she needed the money because her husband was terminally ill.

"It was through my husband's health situation, and Chris knew that, too," Gardiner told CBC News. "She knew my husband was very sick," she said.

Property records show Gardiner owns two properties. A condo in downtown Toronto, on which she took out a mortgage of $150,000 in January, and a cottage property in the small town of Port Albert, Ont.

She and her husband Glen had owned the cottage — which was once his family home, say neighbours — since the '90s. Records show they took out a mortgage on it in 2000 for $100,000. There does not appear to be current mortgage on the property.

They bought the condo in 1999. Records show Theresa took over sole ownership of the cottage when Glen died in June 2019.

"It is a gorgeous spot," said Allison McElhone, who along with her husband Mike has been cottage neighbours with Theresa for more than 20 years.

The cottage in Port Albert, Ont., owned by Gardiner. A neighbour says the property is valued between $800,000 and $1 million. (Google Streetview)

McElhone says the value in Gardiner's property is mainly in the land. It's more than a third of a hectare (just under one acre) next to Port Albert beach on Lake Huron, an area once named by National Geographic as having one of the top ten sunsets in the world.

McElhone said Gardiner had been in discussions to sell the cottage.

"I personally know somebody who said 'Just name your price' and at that point they were talking between $800,000 and $1 million," said McElhone.

McElhone said she was stunned when she read the CBC News story about Gardiner earlier this week.

"Everybody's jaw dropped when the article first came out," she said.

"Port Albert is an extremely small town so everybody's talking about it."

Port Albert beach on Lake Huron, not far from Gardiner's cottage. The stretch of beaches along the eastern shore of Lake Huron were once named among the top ten sunset areas in the world. (HuronBeaches Cottage Rentals)

About the Author

Aaron Saltzman

Senior Reporter, Consumer Affairs

Aaron Saltzman is CBC's Senior Business Reporter. Tips/Story ideas always welcome. aaron.saltzman@cbc.ca twitter.com/cbcsaltzman

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