SF Superior Court

Elder abuse allegations proven against city senior living facility guard

A two-time bank robber who, on release from federal prison, secured work as a guard at a city senior living facility, was found by a San Francisco judge to have perpetrated elder abuse on a vulnerable resident of that facility at a hearing today.

Michael Shiferaw, 33, was handed a five year civil restraining order to protect the victim. On leaving the courtroom he was immediately arrested by sheriff’s deputies on a warrant from San Mateo. The court heard that the Ethiopean-born immigrant had failed five recent drug tests on account of his methamphetamine use and had attempted to remove the GPS ankle monitor he is required to wear.

“She was taken advantage of,” said Judge Maria Evangelista of the nonegenarian victim, after hearing that thousands of dollars had been paid to Shiferaw by the lady, who at one point was spirited away from the senior residence by a side door with no security camera coverage.

“The Petitioner has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that elder abuse has occurred,” concluded the judge.

Shiferaw served 37 months for two bank robberies

Shiferaw was convicted in 2019 of bank robbery and bank larceny arising from two bank raids, the second of which was committed while on pretrial release following his arrest for the first.

He raided the Citibank on Chest­nut Street in the Ma­rina in what quickly tran­spired was an in­side job with his sis­ter who worked as a teller. Hav­ing pre­sented Meron Shiferaw with a note say­ing he had a weapon and de­mand­ing cash, the teller im­me­di­ately pro­vided him with “an un­usu­ally large quan­tity of cash” – $21,000 in to­tal – be­fore he made his es­cape.

Barely four months later – hav­ing been granted pre­trial re­lease – Shiferaw robbed a Bank of Amer­ica in the Rich­mond dis­trict, in­form­ing the teller that he had a weapon and mak­ing off with $4,102.

He served a 37 month federal prison sen­tence for the rob­beries. At the time of his 2019 con­vic­tion, pros­e­cu­tors noted that, in his eight years in the United States, Shiferaw had been ar­rested nine times. This in­cluded a 2013 ar­rest on charges of sec­ond de­gree rob­bery, sec­ond de­gree bur­glary and re­ceiv­ing stolen prop­erty which were ap­par­ently dis­missed af­ter com­ple­tion of a di­ver­sion pro­gram.

On his release from prison Shiferaw obtained work as a security guard at The Towers – a senior living facility on Pine Street in San Francisco. He was employed via The Towers’ security contractor – Whitworth Protective Services of Gilroy, CA – who on August 3, 2023 were fined by state regulators for, in effect, not having registered Shiferaw as a guard and, hence, not having conducted background checks which would have revealed Shiferaw’s criminal convictions.

Details of Shiferaw’s activities at The Towers emerged in federal court in July this year where the victim’s son alleged that Shiferaw “groomed” his elderly and cognitively challenged mother for what he suspected were improper financial and romantic purposes.

“On May 17 2023 Mr Shiferaw made arrange­ments with my mom to take her out of a side door of the Tow­ers out of view of the se­cu­rity cam­era. She was es­sen­tially kid­napped for two and a half hours and I don’t know what they did or where they went.”

He said that Shiferaw had also arranged to meet his mother out­side of the Tow­ers, at her San Fran­cisco home, for what he feared were un­to­ward pur­poses. The lady in ques­tion has pro­vided be­tween $4,000 and $9,000 to Mr Shiferaw and his sis­ters, the court heard.

“He ob­tained the door codes for the res­i­dence as well as the arm codes for the bur­glar alarm. My mother was very much at risk. My moth­er’s re­la­tion­ship with Mr Shiferaw is strange. She is 60 years older than he and they have noth­ing in com­mon.”

The vic­tim’s son told the court about the “dis­turb­ing and in­ti­mate” na­ture of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the de­fen­dant and his cog­ni­tively-chal­lenged mother. Phrases such as “honey,” “boyfriend,” and “just the two of us” were used. 

“Un­til the last few months I have had a very close re­la­tion­ship with my mother,” he said de­tail­ing the break­down in re­la­tion­ship that has hap­pened as a re­sult of the al­leged groom­ing. “I have looked af­ter her and pro­tected her. I spoke with her every night and saw her sev­eral time a week. I cooked and shopped for her.”

Call­ing Shiferaw “a wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing,” the vic­tim’s son was in­cred­u­lous that he was able to se­cure em­ploy­ment as se­cu­rity guard with his track record of con­vic­tions.

The vic­tim’s son also read to the court trans­lated tran­scripts of con­ver­sa­tions be­tween the de­fen­dant and his sis­ter in Ethiopian. In those, they dis­cussed “get­ting their hands on her tele­phone and chang­ing her pass­word and elim­i­nat­ing her GPS code to en­able her to be tracked.”

At that hearing – which was dealing with a number of Mr Shiferaw’s violations of the terms of his post-release community supervision – federal prosecutors refused to put the elder abuse allegations to the court in order, they said, not to stymie any future state criminal case.

This approach drew the ire of U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who accused the Government of having “weak knees” and said that there was “no way [a federal probation violation hearing] could ever jeopardize a state prosecution and create a double jeopardy problem.”

In the two hour hearing today the Judge Evangelista imposed five-year restraining orders on Michael Shiferaw and his two sisters Meron – who was his accomplice in one of the bank robberies – and Mekdelawit Shiferaw. The court heard that they acted in concert with respect to building the inappropriate relationship with the woman in her nineties.

Each is strictly forbidden from contacting or approaching the victim. The court indicated it would be willing to entertain a motion for costs from the family.

On leaving court Michael Shiferaw was detained by San Francisco Sheriff’s Department deputies who confirmed his identity and led him away in handcuffs. It is understood that there is an extant warrant for his arrest out of San Mateo county.

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