SCHENECTADY – Alma Hurwitz’s family tried to keep her safe. They even tried to get the 94-year-old an aide, daughter Robin Inwald recalled in Schenectady County Court Tuesday.
But Hurwitz, a trained scientist, was fiercely independent. She even continued to handle her own finances, something she enjoyed doing. That was, Inwald said in court, “until you came along.”
Inwald spoke of Craig Kearsing, the now-admitted scam artist who preyed on at least three elderly victims in Schenectady and Niskayuna in 2019 for thousands of dollars in bogus home work.
Kearsing, now 39, of Colonie, took $1,000 from Hurwitz before her suspicions and grit prevented Kearsing from getting more, Inwald recalled.
“That was a very sad day when we asked her not to write any more checks for anybody,” Inwald told the court via a recorded statement. “That was the day she lost part of her cherished independence. And all because of your actions.”
Kearsing was sentenced Tuesday to a total term of 3 years, 4 months to 10 years in prison.
He pleaded guilty earlier to three counts of grand larceny as hate crimes, related to three different elderly victims, two of them, including Hurwitz, in their 90s. He committed the crimes in July and October 2019.
Kearsing could have gotten as little as one year in jail, provided he paid back his victims and showed up to court. He faced up to two to six years without paying them back.
Instead, he did neither. He didn’t pay his victim’s back and he didn’t show up to court. He also committed fraud in jail pending sentencing, this time for seeking unemployment benefits he was entitled to, leading to the longer sentence of up to 10 years, prosecutors said.
In his elder-fraud scams, Kearsing would knock on doors, claiming he was doing work in the neighborhood and that he had extra materials. He told vicitims he could seal their driveway or perform yardwork, all at a discount, prosecutors said.
He would quote a price, then attempt to collect much more, prosecutors said.
For a now-94-year-old man in Niskayuna, Kearsing did take more, both in money and in peace, the man’s daughter told the court in her own statement. She asked that her name and her father’s name not be used.
She said Kearsing took a total of $5,200 for driveway repairs but did little.
When the victim’s daughter told her dad he’d been overcharged, he was devastated, she recalled. “He couldn’t understand how you could do that to him.”
It’s been almost two years since the theft, but the impact of what happened on her father has remained, she said.
“Since this incident occurred, my dad is always questioning everything,” his daughter said in her statement given remotely. “He doesn’t think that he can make a good decision. … He is always looking out his window checking to see if anyone is around the house.”
After Kearsing failed to show up for court, he was arrested and ordered held for sentencing. While in custody, prosecutors said, he illegally collected unemployment benefits. They believe he planned to use the money to repay his victims to receive a more favorable sentence.
Members of the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office, however, discovered the fraud and sent the information to the state Department of Labor. He was charged last week with a new grand larceny count related to that.
His new, longer, sentence was the result of talks between prosecutor William M. Lemon and Kearsing’s attorney Brian Mercy. Judge Matthew Sypniewski presided.
Lemon Tuesday called the total sentence “completely appropriate.” He noted Kearsing stole more than money from the victims, he stole their independence.
Throughout her video statement, Inwald spoke using a photo of her late mother as the background. Hurwitz passed away in November at the age of 96, her life and deeds remembered days later in an article in The Daily Gazette.
Inwald referred to that article and her mother’s obituary. She requested Kearsing read them. “We all aspire to live our lives as well as she did,” Inwald said. “Now I ask for you to do the same.”
Despite everything, the family wishes Kearsing well, she said, that he will better himself and not fall back on his old ways.
“But if you ever do decide to take advantage of the elderly or anyone else and to hurt them in the many ways that you’ve hurt us,” Inwald said, “then no punishment will be enough.”
Our December story on Alma’s life: Longtime Schenectadian Alma Hurwitz dies at 96; Raised scientists and pursued creative and athletic interests