A houseguest who moved in with an elderly California woman 10 days before the woman died -- and allegedly became a beneficiary of her will -- has been charged with forgery and burglary and is being investigated to determine whether she has a history of moving in with elderly and ailing people, Los Angeles police said today.
Phyllis Ciocca, 80, of Mission Hills, passed away last month and at first her death did not raise any questions because she had been in failing health, Lt. Paul Vernon of the Los Angeles Police Department told ABC News. At the time of her death, Patricia "Tisha" Rodriguez, 56, was living with Ciocca.
Ciocca's son Charles Dominique told ABC News affiliate KABC saying that Rodriguez "started showing me a will that stated the mobile home and a gold tea set was going to be given to her."
"She was very forward with the son saying this is all mine now, saying that the son and his wife needed to leave Ciocca’s trailer because it was all hers," the lieutenant said. “They were not aware that this woman was living with his mother and they had never met her before.”
When Ciocca's family informed police of the last minute change in the will, police asked the mortuary to put a hold on the body for an autopsy. Toxicology results are pending.
Rodriguez has been charged with burglary and forgery, and police are looking into whether there are other alleged victims, Vernon said.
"We're interested to know if Tisha has taken up residence with other persons, especially if they were elderly and living alone," Vernon said. "Tisha's actions could all just be opportunistic crimes after Phyllis died, or they could be much more sinister and pre-meditated."
As part of their investigation, police have recovered thousands of dollars in checks written in Ciocca's name that had been dated after her death, Vernon said. The checks were made out to cash, restaurants, manicure salons, and motels.
"We believe that she wrote them,” Vernon said referring to the checks.
Detectives also discovered a storage facility that had been rented by Rodriguez containing prescription bottles belonging to other people, the lieutenant said.
Rodriguez has a history of convictions for burglary, DUI, battery and illegal sales of prescription medicine, police said.
Vernon told ABC News that there may be other victims of fraud and the investigation continues.
It wasn't clear whether Rodriguez had yet entered a plea. She is in custody at the Los Angeles County Jail being held in lieu of $140,000 bail.
Anyone with information about possible crimes involving Rodriguez are asked to contact LAPD's Mission Homicide Unit at 818-838-9948.