By Sabina Mollot
The family of Bernie Rothenberg, a Stuyvesant Town centenarian well-known to neighbors for his daily golfing at a playground by his apartment has recently appealed to the community to help recoup some of the tens of thousands of dollars they said was stolen from three of his bank accounts.
The money, his son Don told Town & Village, totaled $40,000 and was taken over the past two years, until Don happened to notice the disappearing funds on a third account, since that was a joint account he had access to.
Chloe Garcia, a 26-year-old woman who lived with the elder Rothenberg for over five years until April when she was confronted by his family and thrown out, has since been arrested and charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. According to the criminal complaint, which doesn’t name the victim, the withdrawn funds come to around $50,000. In it, Garcia allegedly said she got the pin number to Rothenberg’s debit card in his mail and used it for various charges and also wrote checks to herself from his bank account. She was arrested on May 24.
Her Legal Aid attorney, Rebecca Heinsen, declined to comment on the case.
Garcia was described in the family’s GoFundMe page for Rothenberg as his aide who’d been hired to help with the senior’s day-to-day activities.
However, according to Don, she wasn’t an aide so much as a roommate who’d been given a reduced rent, $300, according to the complaint, in exchange for keeping an eye on Rothenberg. Then over time her responsibilities increased and she was tasked with doing things like helping him put in his eye drops at night and taking him to doctor visits.
During this time, according to Don, Rothenberg wound up getting several months in arrears with his rent, and was also behind on healthcare bills from the VA Medical Center because the checks weren’t being sent.
But Don said his father had been unaware he owed any rent or medical bills until the alleged theft came to light.
“When Stuyvesant Town called, she took over the phone conversation,” he said.
However, Don said the back rent has since been paid. The crowd-funding attempt, with a goal of $60,000, is to try to get back some of the lost money from the accounts as well as the recently paid back rent.
As of Monday, $475 had been donated in small sums. Donations can be made online at the GoFundMe page.
Meanwhile, despite the alleged theft of his savings, Don said his father is “doing pretty well.”
Still, he added, “He brings it up fairly often so he’s still in shock about it.”
Rothenberg, a World War II veteran who served in the Philippines and Okinawa as a combat engineer, was an attorney when he was drafted. He later got involved in his family’s stationery business, but most people got to know him as the Stuy Town golfer who played at Playground 3 and also taught the sport to others. He no longer plays, but still teaches.
Last March, neighbors and relatives held a 100th birthday bash for the grandfather of three in his apartment.
At that time, he offered some advice to a Town & Village reporter about living to be 100, and that was not to stress over small things.
“Take everything one day at a time,” he said. “Laugh when you can. All you have to worry about is your health, your family, eating properly. Don’t get aggravated at the unimportant things. And keep the weight off.”
He wasn’t available for comment when T&V called twice this week, his new roommate said.