Happy ending for woman who lost savings

June 24, 2008 2:58:47 PM PDT
Jessie McDonald spent a lifetime saving her money. But a bank teller recently ripped off $300,000 of the Chicago woman's nest egg. The theft was discovered almost a year ago. But the story does have a happy ending. The bank finally agreed Tuesday to give McDonald her money back.

A Chase Bank Spokesman told ABC7 the company had been negotiating a settlement in this case since last year. But Tuesday morning, as it faced what could have become a public relations disaster, Chase agreed to pay over $301,000 to the victim.

Her doctors could not say how long Jessie Mcdonald has suffered from dementia. But the Cook County public guardian believes her disease, which causes confusion and trouble remembering things, is the reason McDonald lost most of her savings.

A teller at J.P. Morgan/Chase Bank downtown was fired last year for allegedly stealing over $300,000 from McDonald's account.

McDonald described the friendship that began in 2004 and continued each time the elderly victim visited the bank's lobby.

"She would treat me too good. How do you think she got my money? Nice and kind like she was a real business. She had three kids. Four. Three girls and a boy. And I just figured a mother would be on the level," said Jessie McDonald, embezzlement victim.

The 86-year-old McDonald saved the money with her late husband, to whom she was married 61 years. The teller, identified in court papers as Melindathee Hill, allegedly paid off the mortgage on her Bolingbrook home with the stolen money, bought a car and jewelry, among other things, and paid tuition for one or more of her children:

"She would get her $5,000 and $6,000 at one time across the line, all down, every month," said McDonald.

After it fired Hill last fall, Chase Bank told McDonald to contact the public guardian. But, initially, Chase would not agree to pay the victim back the money one of its employees allegedly stole.

"I'm still perplexed by that now. I think what it is, is just the fact that it's a big bureaucracy," said Robert Harris, Cook County public guardian.

Then, Tuesday morning, after a Sun-Times story and a flurry of follow-up news media calls, the bank backed off its hard line.

"We were just working through the numbers. Clearly it was intolerable that our employee committed this," said Tom Kelly, J.P. Morgan Chase spokesman.

And Jesse McDonald, living for now in the south suburban Crestwood Care Center, can use the money to find a permanent long-term home. Even in her failing mind, she realized the bank had to make good on the misdeed of a bad employee.

"Anytime you work for a bank or a big company like I did, they have insurance on everybody. They don't lose no money," said McDonald.

The fired bank teller, Melindathee Hill, has never been arrested or charged in connection with this case. The Chase spokesman said the company did alert the FBI last fall about the alleged theft.


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