COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Two elderly women- one overcoming a stroke and the other dealing with the loss of her husband- say they were preyed on by the banker they entrusted their finances to.
Tracey Pearson, a former SunTrust Bank employee, is now facing federal theft charges. According to court documents, she manipulated customers' accounts, taking thousands of dollars without their permission or knowledge. Pearson faces charges of Theft by Bank Employee and Aggravated Identity Theft, stemming back to 2006. In her indictment, it says she stole $170,000.
In 2008, Jacquelyn Nix says she turned her finances over to Pearson when she was in a nursing home recovering from a stroke.
Nix says Pearson activated her home equity loan behind her back.
"My bills were getting charged to my home equity and more than likely, she was keeping my money. My checks were going to the back at that time and she was handling everything. So she really took advantage of me. I noticed she started being dressed nicer and nicer. I couldn't believe it! I had trusted her, believed every word she said and I just thought she was my friend. I hope she's learned a lesson but there needs to be some accountability," Nix told WTVM.
When she asked Pearson why her bills were piling up and why her monthly income wasn't covering her expenses, Nix says Pearson told her "that's the way it had to be."
Nix was out $15,000- money the bank eventually put back in her account.
But Louise Bennett wasn't as lucky. She says after her husband died in 2007, Pearson suggested she transfer CDs to her checking account but the money never showed up.
"One sum was $35,000 the others were smaller amounts. I would like to have my back because I'm a widow and I need help. I need the money," Bennett said.
Not knowing where to turn, Bennett closed her account. So far, she's not seen any of her missing money.
If their allegations weren't enough, Tracey Pearson is also accused of stealing close to $35,000 from the account of a deceased SunTrust customer and using the money on herself.
Her indictment also alleges she took thousands of dollars from other customers' checking accounts and CDs and created loans in customers' names, forging different paperwork to make it look like the loans were secured.
Tracey Pearson has entered pleas of not guilty to all of her charges and is out on bond.
Her attorney, Mark Shelnutt, says he wants to see the evidence against her because he does not know yet how the government claims to be connecting her to these crimes.
Shelnutt says Pearson was originally charged with Theft by Deception in 2008, a state case. He says he did not know she was at the center of an ongoing federal investigation and that her indictment came as a surprise.
If convicted on her felony charges, she faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine or both on each charge.
A media representative for SunTrust bank had no comment on the case and declined to answer how long Pearson worked for the bank or what her job title was.