A woman who ran an unlicensed elderly group home at an Ellicott Cityhouse has been charged with stealing money from at least one of the residents, who were abandoned earlier this month when the woman packed up and left town.

County police say that Kim Boffen of the 4900 block of Avoca Avenue has been charged through an arrest warrant withstealing $700 worth of services she owed one of her elderly tenants.

Boffen, whose whereabouts are unknown, provided personal care andlodging at her home for four senior citizens, three of whom are in their eighties.

Police said Boffen, who had been renting the house and had never received a license to operate a group home, packed all her belongings into a truck June 17 and drove away. One of the residents had just paid her $700 in advance for another month of care, police said.

Another resident's son told police that Boffen had calledhim the day before she left and demanded that he pay his $600 monthly payment right away.

When he asked why, Boffen reportedly told him that "she was collecting the money early this month and she needed it immediately," said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a county police spokesman.

The son refused and told her he intended to take his mother out of the home the next day, Gardner said.

When he arrived to pick her up, Boffen was gone and so was most of the furniture from the house, said James Rawle, supervisor of the county Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits.

"Apparently she (Boffen) and her husband pulled up in a U-Haul, loaded it up, and they were gone," he said. "They just left the tenants behind."

The residents of the home -- a 74-, an 83- and two 86-year-olds -- were assisted out of the house byDepartment of Social Services officials the day Boffen left them, police said.

All of the elderly residents have gone home to their families or been placed in other facilities, county social services officials said.

Rawle said a housing inspector spoke with Boffen earlier in the day during a surprise inspection at the home.

Boffen had applied for a permit that would have allowed her to rent four of the rooms, and the inspector arrived to make a routine check of the house.

"We found nothing extraordinarily wrong with the house; it wasn't in bad shape or anything," Rawle said.

"The only problem we really had with it was that she didn't have the proper permit to rent it out to four people."

County social services officials said that Boffen converted the rental property into a group home in early Apriland charged each resident a fee for meals, a room and personal care,such as bathing, cooking, and cleaning.

Rawle said most group homes charge from $600 to $1,000 a month for lodging and care. The exactamount that Boffen charged is not known, because the fees were paid through private funds from the residents' families.

The house on Avoca Avenue has been declared unfit for occupancy, due to damage caused while Boffen was moving her property out of the building.

The incident has posed some troubling questions, both to police -- who cando little other than charge Boffen with one count of theft -- and for county officials, who say that unlicensed group homes are difficultto identify without the help of the public.

"We are likely to seemore of this in the future," said Phyllis Madachy, an assistant administrator in the county Office on Aging.

"Many people don't check to see if the business they're putting their mother or father into has a legitimate license."

State law requires that anyone who intends to lodge and provide care for two or more non-relatives must register the business with the state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. If more than four people are lodged, a license is required.

"A lot of people will say they have a license, but the word 'licensed' carries with it a lot of connotations," Madachy said. "It's best to always call to make sure."

To inquire about the license of a group or nursing home in Howard County, call the Office on Aging at 313-7250or the Adult Protective Services division of the county Department of Social Services at 461-0277.

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