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 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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