By Tamas Mondovics

The news of the arrest of a pair of healthcare workers in Ruskin, who robbed the elderly patients they cared for last summer, was much welcomed.

Experts in the field also acknowledged that the level of elder exploitation may well exceed what has been reported to authorities and documented by researchers.

While the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was pleased to make the arrests, detectives continued their investigations and had asked any other victims to contact the department.

The effort paid off and resulted in an arrest as District 4 investigators pursued a case concerning a hospice patient having items stolen from a residence in Sun City.

According to detectives the items stolen were mainly jewelry that included rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Investigators identified Theresa Belekevich, 44, of Plant City as a suspect, whom they said was a hospice employee at the time of the thefts.

Sadly, the investigation also revealed additional victims in Plant City, Tampa and Gibsonton dating back to October 2014.

Multiple items of stolen jewelry were returned to victims and their families.

Belekevich turned herself in to detectives early last month and was booked into Orient Road Jail for four counts of Grand Theft, seven counts of Dealing in Stolen Property and seven counts of False Information to a 2nd Hand Dealer. Belekevich admitted to the offenses and is no longer an employee of hospice.

“The investigation totaled over one year to investigate thoroughly,” said HCSO Public Information Officer Cristal Nunez.

According to the National Institute of Justice, the U.S. has no national reporting mechanism to track the financial exploitation of the elderly.

One recent study of 2,000 community-residing elderly individuals in Florida as well as in Arizona found that nearly six percent reported being victims of financial mistreatment, such as someone stealing or spending their money, selling or taking their property, or forging their signature.

As the investigations in these cases by the Sheriff’s Office continues, residents and any other victims are asked to contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 247-8200.