Maggie woman faces fraud charges

Bonnie Burgess has a pattern of defrauding the elderly
By Allison Richmond | Jan 11, 2017
Bonnie Burgess's mug shot from a previous arrest in Haywood County.

It has taken some time to gather the evidence, but a case featured on the front page of The Mountaineer back in April of last year is finally making its way into the courts.

More than a year ago, relatives of then 94-year-old Thelma Hoeben discovered that their beloved aunt was being taken advantage of by someone she thought she could trust.

Hoeben first met Bonnie and Maurice Burgess when they expressed an interest in renting her basement apartment. The couple soon moved in, both literally and figuratively.

They rented the basement apartment, but soon were driving the elderly woman to the grocery store and the department store and loading up, on her dime.

Hoeben’s niece, Lynn Gibbons, who lives near Chicago, Illinois, said she found out later that the pair would offer to drive her to shop, then would add their own items to the checkout, offering to pay her back, but never really catching up on their debt.

Things got worse when they encouraged Hoeben to take out a Belk’s credit card, then took possession of it when it arrived in the mail.

Gibbons said they went Christmas shopping in November and December 2015, on Hoeben’s newly established credit, buying gifts for family, grandchildren, and even Hoeben herself.

By the time the holiday rolled around they had ingratiated themselves into the family, to the point of convincing Hoeben, who had intended to leave her home and property to her church upon her death, to instead leave it to the Burgesses in her will.

They even drove her to her lawyers office and sat with her while she made the changes to her will.

Their plans to seemingly take over Hoeben’s credit and home were foiled, however, when Hoeben confessed what was going on to her niece over the phone, who quickly flew to North Carolina to set things straight.

Upon Gibbon’s stern insistence, the Burgesses moved out, and apparently moved on.

This was not the first time around, at least for Bonnie Burgess. Just months before she and Maurice moved into Hoeben’s house, she had been charged in a separate case of fraud in which she stole the identity of another elderly woman she was caring for to shop on her dime, also at Belk’s.

Both Bonnie and Maurice had also been charged with similar crimes during their time living in Florida in 2008.

Investigators were able to determine that Bonnie Burgess fraudulently signed multiple credit card slips with Hoeben’s name at Belk’s. Although they believe Maurice Burgess had knowledge of the crimes here in North Carolina, at this time there was nothing they could charge him with.

The couple appear to be using local churches to make connections with their victims. By attending regularly, getting to know people and eventually getting close to elderly people, they gain access to the information they need to defraud their unsuspecting victims.

Gibbons said she is happy to report that her aunt is now doing well despite the betrayal of trust. She has a trusted caregiver who looks in on her daily. She and Gibbons also speak by phone daily, although Hoeben is still resistant to give up her home and move in with relatives.

“We tease and tell her she has to behave herself now or we’ll have to pack her off to live with us,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons is pleased the case is moving forward and the actions of the Burgesses have been exposed.

“She uses made-up stories to gain sympathy at the church and that’s just wrong. The ways in which they manipulate people are incredible when you look past the veneer,” Gibbons said.

Detective Jeff Mackey of the Maggie Valley Police Department has been working the case from the beginning. He said that although there had been some delays in getting the information he needed from Belk, things are moving forward now.

He said the Burgesses are still living in the valley, attending church and carrying on as usual. Although he said there are no other active cases at this time, he wouldn’t be surprised if they were still seeking out new victims.

“Given the pattern of behavior, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still at it,” he said.

For unlawfully obtaining and using credit under Hoeben’s name, Bonnie Burgess has been charged with felony exploitation of the elderly and felony credit card fraud.

Her next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 15.