‘We thought she was a friend’: Williamsburg housekeeper sentenced for stealing $550,000 from elderly man

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Dana Morris, 42, was sentenced to more than 3 years in prison for stealing more than $550,000 from an elderly Williamsburg man while working as his housekeeper. (Courtesy of Pete McDonald)
Dana Morris, 42, was sentenced to more than 3 years in prison for stealing more than $550,000 from an elderly Williamsburg man while working as his housekeeper. (Courtesy of Pete McDonald)

When 83-year-old Pete McDonald hired Dana Morris he thought he was getting a housekeeper for his Williamsburg Landing home.

The agreement was this: Morris, 42, would come to Pete McDonald’s home for about eight hours every week to clean up the clutter and pick up his mail. In return, Pete McDonald paid Morris $400 a week, gave her bonuses on holidays and let her have unlimited use of his Saab convertible, said his wife, Claudia.

The relationship between Pete McDonald and Morris quickly turned into a friendship. He hosted Morris and her family for dinners and bought her children clothing and gifts.

“We did an awful lot for them,” Claudia McDonald said. “We bought them food, gave them gifts. I gave her china.”

In 2014, McDonald went to his bank to make a withdrawal. He realized his balance was more than $500,000 short.

An investigation revealed that Morris had forged and altered 117 of Pete McDonald’s checks, stealing about $558,600 from him between 2012 and 2014.

Officials say all of the checks were deposited into Morris’ personal checking account. She spent the money on rent, jewelry and retail and entertainment items. In 2014 she also spent $27,000 to buy a Hyundai Sonata Limited, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

“We thought she was a friend,” Claudia McDonald said. “It was really hurtful, and I think when you’re older its harder to shake those types of things off.”

Morris was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison Wednesday. She pleaded guilty on July 14 to conducting a monetary transaction involving proceeds of unlawful activity and tax evasion in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

Morris underreported her income on her 2012 tax return, then failed to file her 2013 and 2014 tax returns after requesting extensions. In the extensions, she falsely stated she would owe no tax for each year, the release said.

Morris evaded paying a total of $172,497 in income tax for those years, the release said.

While Claudia McDonald is happy that Morris will serve prison time, she said her husband wishes he could get his money back.

“He’d like to have his money back, and that looks like it’s never going to happen,” Claudia McDonald said. “I, however, wanted her to serve time so she didn’t do this to some other elderly person or couple.”

Pete McDonald was not available for interview because of a health condition.

‘We thought she was a friend’: Williamsburg housekeeper sentenced for stealing $550,000 from elderly man