Virginia veterans facility worker admits to ring-theft scheme
The Roanoke Times, Va.
The theft victims were elderly veterans, in their late 70s and 80s, most of whom had served in either World War II or Korea. One even fought at Okinawa.
But in more recent years, as patients at the Virginia Veterans Care Center in northwest Roanoke, they were battling enemies of a different, more personal nature: dementia and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
Alongside these hardships, on Tuesday a nurses' assistant admitted in Roanoke Circuit Court to being part of a scheme to steal and pawn patients' wedding bands. A second nurses' assistant faces similar charges.
Ashley Michelle Sweeney, 23, of Ferrum, admitted that in January she accepted rings taken from four patients at the veterans' facility on Shenandoah Avenue. She also acknowledged she later sold them at two pawn shops along Williamson Road.
Judge Clifford Weckstein found Sweeney guilty of four counts each of both receiving and selling stolen property, felonies that carry a maximum total penalty of 120 years in prison. She will be sentenced at a hearing in September.
Through Sweeney's plea agreement, prosecutors dropped two counts of obtaining money by false pretenses. Sweeney also had been charged with four counts of grand larceny, but those were downgraded to the less serious charge of receiving stolen goods.
Sweeney and another suspect in the case, Brittney Heather Cook, were working as contract nurses' assistants when they were arrested in February during an investigation of ring thefts at the veterans care center, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Joshua Dietz said in court.
Dietz said detectives connected Sweeney and Cook to the victims by their work schedules, and he said the two women rode to work together and were inseparable on the job.
"Other nurses described them as being always together, even when they were not assigned to the same room," he said.
Sweeney used her photo I.D. on Jan. 14 and 15 to hock four rings, and she and Cook were recorded on a pawn shop security camera. They exchanged the jewelry for a total of $405, Dietz said, adding that personal appraisals placed the value of the yellow gold wedding bands at approximately $4,650. He said the women had ended their work shifts at 3 p.m. those days, and the rings were sold less than an hour later.
Dietz said Cook has admitted taking only two of the four rings and said she denied taking them off the fingers of their owners, a claim he said is contradicted by evidence of bruising on the wrist and hand of one of the victims.
Cook, who faces multiple charges of grand larceny and obtaining money by false pretenses, is due in court July 30.
Both women, who are not registered nurses, are restricted by the court from working as nurses' assistants and from making contact with each other.
Four rings that were taken and pawned were returned to their owners. A fifth ring, belonging to a female patient at the veterans center, is still unaccounted for, Dietz said.