Senior home accused of human trafficking and sexual exploitation - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken News, Weather, Sports

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Columbus senior home accused of human trafficking and sexual exploitation shut down

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

A Columbus senior citizen home and care center has been shut down after a two month investigation revealed residents were victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, the Columbus Police Department announced Thursday afternoon. The center's owner, director and maintenance manager are among those arrested.

Two months ago, local authorities - joined by resources including the FBI - began an investigation in to Loving Care Independent Living Center, a licensed facility located at 4225 Alton Drive. The investigation found operators were not providing needed medical care, committing financial fraud, allowing residents to live in unsanitary conditions and "patients would sometimes have to endure some rather unspeakable acts of physical cruelty and sexual abuse," police say in a released statement.

"The elderly victims were not given enough food and the poorly equipped and undermanned staff gave them inadequate medical treatment while internal medical records were poorly maintained," the release e-mailed to News 3 by Sgt. Mark Richards of the Columbus Police Department's Bureau of Investigative Services and Special Victim's Unit reads.

The 19 disabled adults living in the home were transferred by authorities to other care facilities after a December 4 fire in the center's kitchen, according to police. Inside the facility, investigators found - what they call - extremely unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Items recovered from the center include food items covered in roach feces and other bugs. Additionally, canned food items were found to be rusted or expired.

During the course of the investigation, officials determined the site's owner, Sheryl Drakeford, had been "outsourcing" excess patients to other facilities.

"Sheryl Drakeford would routinely take in her elderly and disabled adult patients into her home knowing that her facility was overcrowded," the release from Sgt. Richards says. "As the facility became overcrowded, the facility would send some of their obnoxious and troubling patients to another facility that was unlicensed. In some cases, these unlicensed facilities were worse than where they were previously staying."

Inside Loving Care Independent Living Center, residents would sometimes have to sleep on a couch or bathroom floor, police say. In some cases, bedrooms designed to house two residents were supporting three at a time.

Additionally, police say Drakeford was committing financial fraud by collecting rent from residents who did not have a place to stay or had moved out. She is also accused of collecting hundreds of dollars of personal money from her residents.

"[The residents] needed somebody to take care of them, protect them," the release from Sgt. Richards says. "This collaborative investigation sends a resounding message that elder and disabled adult exploitation will not be tolerated."

Drakeford along with Bruce Davis are both facing a felony charge of Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Disabled Persons. They are also facing a misdemeanor count of Operating a Personal Care Home Without a License. Marcus Miles and KaShonda Miles are each facing a count of Aggravated Child Molestation, two counts of False Imprisonment and two counts of Sexual Assault of a Person while in Custody. Columbus police say more arrests are "likely in the future."

Authorities encourage families to investigate living facilities before enrolling loved ones. Families should check a center's license, credentials and references. Columbus police are encouraging the public to report suspected abuse to Adult Protective Services by phone at 1-866-55AGING between the hours of 8a and 5p eastern Monday through Friday.

The Columbus Police Department was assisted by the Georgia Department of Community Health, Healthcare Facility Regulations Division as well as other state and federal agencies during the investigation.

WRBL News 3 reached out to Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who often speaks on behalf of the police department because of her dual role as the director of public safety, for comment but Tomlinson declined. She said she was not familiar with the investigation and was not expected to be briefed on it until Friday morning at the earliest.

**This is a developing story. Stay with WRBL News 3 and WRBL.com for updates.

James Brierton

James joined WRBL News 3 with experience from CNN, NBC News and his own hyper-local news site. He manages the WRBL News 3 Web desk. More>>

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