Milwaukee woman stole uncle's $300K after brain injury, police say

A Milwaukee woman was supposed to be her elderly uncle's caretaker as his power of attorney. Instead, investigators say she actually did more harm.

Denise Bates is charged with neglect and theft, and court documents say the 60-year-old stole at least $300,000 from her uncle who lives with a developmental disability, functioning at the level of a 16-year-old.

Other family members say they forgive Bates for what she did, but they want the courts to hold her accountable.

In October 2018, family members say Dale Gustafson, 77, was mugged outside his home near 82nd and Burleigh. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was taken to Froedtert's rehab facility in Menomonee Falls, where doctors concluded he'd need around-the-clock care.

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Court documents say Bates, his niece and power of attorney, was trained to provide that care with her ex-boyfriend, Gene Johnson, 57, in March 2019.

"We really thought he was on his deathbed or about ready to die because he was six foot tall, and nobody that's six foot tall should weigh 125 pounds," said Harold Gustafson, Dale's brother.

Instead, Harold found his brother malnourished and dehydrated in March 2019. Dale was readmitted to the hospital, and this investigation ramped up.

"When we picked him up in April 2019, he had $50 left in his checking account," said Suzanne Gustafson, Dale's sister-in-law.

The complaint says investigators determined Bates was stealing from her uncle as far back as November 2015. It says she wrote herself and Johnson fraudulent checks and opened bank accounts in Dale's name with herself as an authorized user.

Bates is also accused of using Dale's money to pay for her debt on 30 credit cards and draining his investment accounts that he'd been building as a city of Milwaukee employee for 44 years.

Dale is now living with Harold and Suzanne in Kentucky, who say they're providing him the care he should have received. 

They said they forgive Bates for what she did, but hope accountability in this case can prevent neglect toward another family in the future.

"She still has to be held accountable," said Suzanne Gustafson. "It's not that she can just say, 'Oh, I'm sorry' and move on."

Bates is charged with theft by false representation, theft in a business setting and negligently subjecting an at-risk person to abuse, causing bodily harm. 


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