Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Judge demands harsh sentence for ex-attorney accused of embezzling millions from Utah clients

Former Salt Lake City attorney Calvin Curtis faced about six years in prison as part of a plea agreement. The judge insisted on more prison time.
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Traffic passes the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 13, 2020. At a hearing on Tuesday, a federal judge tossed out a sentencing proposal for former Salt Lake City estate attorney Calvin Curtis, demanding that the lawyer accused of defrauding his clients of millions receive a harsher prison sentence.

By Kolbie Peterson

A federal judge in Utah tossed out a sentencing proposal Tuesday for former Salt Lake City estate attorney Calvin Curtis, demanding that the man accused of defrauding his clients out of millions receive a harsher prison sentence.

The proposal of about six years in prison had been agreed upon by federal prosecutors and Curtis’ defense attorney ahead of the hearing. U.S. District Judge David Barlow was expected to take it into consideration before imposing a sentence.

Instead, rejecting the proposal altogether, Barlow said that as Curtis allegedly stole $12.7 million from 26 of his clients — all elderly, disabled or incapacitated — over about 13 years, the suspected fraud was “cold-blooded, premeditated and repeated.”

Curtis “perverted” the law, Barlow continued, and “enriched himself on the backs of those who needed his help.”

‘Lavish lifestyle’

Prosecutors have argued Curtis used that money to fund a “lavish lifestyle,” which included frequent travel, expensive gifts, tickets to basketball and football games, and pricey renovations and mortgage payments on his former mansion home and office on South Temple.

Assistant U.S. attorney Ruth Hackford-Peer said in Tuesday’s hearing that the proposed sentence of 73 months in prison was not a perfect resolution, “but it’s a good one.”

Several of Curtis’ victims attended the hearing, filling the courtroom along with family members and caregivers. One mother pushed in a stroller her disabled 9-year-old daughter, who wore a yellow bow in her hair and braces on both wrists.

They were expecting Barlow to issue a sentence, and many made statements during the hearing. One woman walked up to the podium while holding onto a loved one’s arm to steady herself. A man in a wheelchair gave 62-year-old Curtis a long look as he passed the table where Curtis sat with his attorney.

As the victims shared their stories of how devastating it has been to lose money that they would have used for various needs such as food, clothing, medicine and health care, a common refrain was for Barlow to impose the maximum sentence.

“I don’t think Calvin is human,” one woman said quietly. “I feel that he’s the devil.”

In a statement Tuesday, Curtis said, “A lot of people have talked about me, and most of what they have said is true. I’m very sorry for that.”

‘Heinous’ crimes

When it came time for Barlow to announce a decision, he said the proposed prison sentence — plus a restitution judgment of $12.7 million and supervised release for three years as part of Curtis’ plea agreement — was not harsh enough.

Since Curtis’ crimes were “so heinous,” Barlow said, he should receive a prison sentence at the higher end of the range that is customary in such a case, which is 10 years.

The judge added that he is “not convinced” that Curtis — who is charged with wire fraud and money laundering — takes responsibility for his actions or feels remorse.

Barlow asked the attorneys for both sides to negotiate again and come up with a new sentencing proposal. A new hearing date was not immediately set.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Laura Milliken Gray, an attorney for a woman with Alzheimer’s disease from whom Curtis has admitted to embezzling more than $9 million, called Barlow’s decision a “surprise.”

Her client’s daughter-in-law, Sherry McConkey, said she is “excited” at the prospect of Curtis getting more time in prison than expected. But she added that it’s “hard” the case will go on longer, “because I just want it to be over and done with.”

Greg Skordas, Curtis’ attorney, said, “We were not surprised. We’re disappointed.”

“We came a long way and hoped to be able to seal the deal today,” he continued. “It’s not the end. We’re not finished.”

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Michigan man ordered to trial for financial abuse of "vulnerable" elderly woman

(WWJ) A Michigan man has been bound over for trial on charges that he stole thousands of dollars and a truck from an elderly woman.

Craig Macauley, 39, of Plainwell, in Allegan County, was charged last month with seven counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult, $1,000 to $20,000, according to the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

Authorities say Macauley took over $45,000 from an elderly woman who depended on others to assist with tasks, like driving her to appointments.

It's alleged that he transferred the title of the victim's truck to himself, maxed out her credit cards and overdrew her bank account.

Wednesday afternoon, Macauley waived his preliminary, sending the case to Kalamazoo County Circuit Court for trial.

“We will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute crimes committed against seniors and other vulnerable adults in our state,” AG Dana Nessel said, in a statement.

Officials did not say how Macauley and his alleged victim knew each other.

Further court dates in the case are pending.

In 2019, the Michigan AG's office launched an Elder Abuse Task Force which consists of more than 55 different organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sectors — all working together to combat elder abuse in the state. Get more information at this link.

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1 arrested after allegedly assaulting, burning elderly women in Hereford

by: Dailyn Wells, Judd Baker

HEREFORD, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — A man has been arrested for allegedly assaulting and burning an elderly woman in Hereford.

Hereford Police said officers were called around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, on the 100 block of Nueces on an assault.

Officers found a 79-year-old woman with burns and assault injuries to the head and body.

HPD said she was flown to Lubbock due to what is believed to be serious to life-threatening injuries.

The suspect, Cortney Brannon, 44, was arrested and booked into the Deaf Smith County Jail. He is charged with Injury to the Elderly Causing Bodily Injury.

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Monday, May 16, 2022

A guardianship gone wrong

SUTTONS BAY – The story begins at Martha Rothaug’s upright Yamaha.

It was June 2016. Martha, a former concert pianist, was becoming increasingly forgetful, struggling to play songs she once knew by heart. A doctor told Martha’s daughter, Jen Rodgers, the misplayed keys could be an early sign of dementia.

For Martha — “Marty” to family and friends — at stake was not only her health and where she would live in the final years of her life, but control of her $1.8 million estate.

The family’s accumulated wealth was far above average, yet their problem will sound familiar to many — an aging parent who wants to live independently; adult children who disagree about their parent’s care.

Particularly alarming in this case, however, is that Marty, 78, had planned for such an eventuality, consulting with an attorney on a 40-page estate plan she signed more than a decade before a doctor flagged the memory issues.

Jen was the person Marty trusted to handle her end-of-life care and decision-making. In 2007 and again in 2014, Marty put those wishes in writing.

“I nominate Jennifer A. Rodgers to serve as Guardian over my person and Conservator over my estate if a protective order over my person or estate is commenced after the execution of this power of attorney,” a document Marty signed and notarized Sept. 26, 2014 states.

But in March 2017, a state worker cited unsubstantiated complaints about Jen in a court petition. A Leelanau County Probate Court judge responded by appointing Jill Case, a woman neither Jen nor Marty had ever met, to be Marty’s guardian and conservator.

This decision by Judge Larry Nelson gave Case control over where Marty lived, how her money was spent and who could visit her. It also sparked a legal battle that would fester for years, occupy two northern Michigan probate courts, temporarily separate a mother from her daughter and rack up thousands in attorneys fees.

Jen, who previously shared part of this story with the Northern Express, said she tries not to dwell on the past, but that’s not easy.

“I still don’t understand why we couldn’t have worked together as a family,” she said.

A family divided

Marty has a son, Simeon Rodgers, Jen’s older brother who lives in Ohio.

Court documents show in the mid-2000s, Marty and Simeon became estranged after the family’s once successful metal fabrication company fell on hard times.

A resulting bankruptcy forced the sale of Marty’s Lake Leelanau home and in 2007, she sued Simeon in the Common Pleas Court of Montgomery County, Ohio, for breach of contract. Simeon counter-sued for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, court records show, and several months later, Marty wrote her son out of her will.

Simeon says Jen manipulated their mother into changing her will, that his lawsuit was a standard response and not intended to be punitive.

“My sister engineered all that,” Simeon said, of being removed from his mother’s will. “When you are sued, do you know the law well enough to know you always file a countersuit? You always do.”

Jen disputes Simeon’s characterization of her. In 2015, records show Simeon and Marty did begin to try to repair their relationship.

By then Marty had moved to Suttons Bay and soon after loaned Jen money so she could purchase her own home nearby.

Jen worked as a traveling surgical technician and she recalled that for the next several years, the two women’s lives adhered to a predictable schedule.

Jen would go to Florida in the winter for work, Martha would visit for a few weeks and then Jen would return to Michigan every spring. During the rest of the year, mother and daughter saw each other several times a week, going out to dinner, sharing home decorating ideas and visiting each other’s homes to watch HGTV.

This changed abruptly in March 2017.

While Jen was in Florida, Simeon’s adult son, Spencer Rodgers, paid Martha a visit.

The APS complaint

“No one lives with Martha. No one has been assigned to care for her. She has rotting food in her fridge. Jennifer has had no regular physical contact for 4 years with Martha.”

These words anchor a March 3, 2017 investigation report by Adult Protective Services, filed after staff at the state agency received a complaint from Spencer.

After that, things happened fast.

An APS worker, Michelle Hagerman, interviewed Simeon about what Spencer said he found in Marty’s refrigerator. In her investigative report, Hagerman made broad conclusions about Marty and Jen’s relationship, many of which court officials found later to be false or unsubstantiated.

The report stated Marty wasn’t taking her medications, and suggested Jen was not only neglecting Marty but was preying on her financially — observations which Simeon continues to contend were true.

The APS report stated Jen borrowed money from Marty and wasn’t paying it back, and that Jen “might” have taken out a $150,000 loan against Marty’s house in Marty’s name.

It’s unclear how Jen could have done this while also not having any regular physical contact with her mother in four years — a non sequitur in the report Hagerman didn’t explain.

Instead, Hagerman filed an emergency petition in Leelanau County’s probate court, seeking to have a judge appoint a temporary guardian for Marty.

Emergency guardianship petitions are designed to protect vulnerable adults who are in immediate danger. When a probate court register receives such a petition, he or she often schedules a hearing within a few days. Emergency petitions filed “ex parte,” as it was in Marty’s case, means an opposing party — in this case, Jen — doesn’t have to be notified.

“At this point, I’m a perpetrator,” Jen said, of how she believed the court and the state viewed her. “I was panicking. I should have caught a plane. But I didn’t know the magnitude of what was getting ready to happen.”

If Jen had booked a flight home, she said she could have shown Nelson a folder of documents proving the APS complaint was false.

There were notes from Marty’s doctor stating Jen should do what she could to help her mother maintain her independence. Paperwork from a service Jen arranged to assess Marty’s driving ability, as well as cost estimates from a home health care agency — tasks Jen completed before leaving for Florida.

Finally, Jen could have explained how the $60,000 real estate loan was so she could live near her mother.

Hagerman spoke with Simeon and Spencer, but didn’t interview Jen. Consequently, none of the above information was in Hagerman’s investigation report.

Four days after the emergency petition was filed, Nelson signed it. And appointed Case — who Hagerman suggested — as Marty’s temporary guardian.

Losing Control

In family disputes, it’s not unusual for a judge to see an unrelated third party as an objective solution.

It is unusual, however, for a judge to override signed durable power of attorney and patient advocate documents, which the law says must be followed unless a judge decides there are extenuating circumstances.

“If I have trust documents or a durable power of attorney before me, it’s very, very rare that I will override them,” said Melanie Stanton, who served as Grand Traverse County’s probate court judge from 2013 to 2021.

Judges do have the power to override these documents when they suspect abuse or neglect. A transcript of the emergency hearing shows Nelson appeared to be under the impression that Jen was angling for her mother’s money.

That suspicion was amplified by Hagerman, who testified — without evidence, the transcript shows — that Marty’s dementia may have affected earlier decision-making.

Judges often defer to recommendations from APS investigators. They also rely heavily on a type of court-appointed attorney called a “guardian ad litem,” assigned to meet with a vulnerable person like Marty and report their findings to the court.

The guardian ad litem in Marty’s case was Traverse City attorney Mattias Johnson. The court asked Johnson to review documents, meet with Marty and offer an opinion on whether the order granting temporary guardianship should be made permanent.

Johnson in his April 4, 2017 report described Marty as charming and well-dressed, and her home as beautiful and tidy. He acknowledged Simeon’s removal from Marty’s will and the legal documents naming Jen as her mother’s choice of decision-maker and beneficiary.

Johnson spoke with Marty’s financial manager, John Schubert who confirmed Marty’s substantial investments and stated Jen was helpful to Marty in financial matters and nothing she did struck him as untoward.

Johnson then recommended continuation of the outside guardian.

“While it is of yet unclear whether there has been any actual impropriety, GAL believes that the appearance of impropriety lends itself to continuing with a third party management of Martha’s finances and health decisions,” Johnson wrote in his report to the court.

Nelson, who declined comment for this story, entered an order May 17, 2017, making Case’s role as Marty’s guardian and conservator a permanent appointment.

Background Checks

Case appeared to have the right credentials to make decisions about the health, housing and financial needs of an elderly person showing signs of vulnerability.

She worked for Grand Traverse County’s Commission on Aging and her county personnel records show she passed FBI, Michigan State Police and state Department of Health and Human Services criminal background checks.

Probate courts differ from one county to the next on whether to conduct background checks on people they appoint. Emmet County, for example, asks the sheriff’s office to do it, Oakland County requires a background check and a credit check to be on its approved guardianship list and Grand Traverse County doesn’t conduct any background checks at all.

Judges and staff don’t have the time or the resources, Stanton said, and even if they did, they can’t access LEIN, the nationwide law enforcement intelligence network’s database that contains records of criminal offenses.

There’s no record of a criminal background check on Case by the Leelanau Probate Court, though if there had been a check, it’s not likely it would have noted civil infractions — records show Case’s paycheck years before was garnished by a debt collector.

Case had also been cited at her Commission on Aging job by COA Director Georgia Durga for unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, bullying and violating the county’s violence in the workplace policy.

“It is my expectation you will cease using bullying tactics as detailed above,” Durga wrote to Case in a 2010 corrective action form. “From this day forward I do not expect to receive any additional complaints from other employees/departments regarding your behavior. When you meet with me, I want you to bring solutions on how to coach employees to make them successful, not ways to remove them from their positions.”

Five years later, in 2015, Durga suspended Case for behavior which she said made another employee feel threatened; the five-day suspension was later vacated by a county administrator who labeled it a she-said, she-said accusation.

Following her appointment as Marty’s guardian and conservator, court records show Case communicated frequently with Simeon’s family, and positioned herself as a gatekeeper between Jen and Marty.

Records show Case told Spencer to unplug Marty’s home phone, then allowed Jen 15-minute phone calls with her mother and short, twice-weekly supervised visits. Jen could come to Marty’s home as long as she didn’t go anywhere but the kitchen, living room or dining room.

When Jen took her mother outside in July and to a nearby orchard, Case reported it to the judge.

“(H)er visits were to be supervised and that an aide needed to be with her mom at all times,” Case wrote, in a July 13, 2017 report to Judge Nelson. “She was not to take her mom outside without an aide.”

Case soon paid thousands for Marty’s care, hiring two women — Monica Bradford and Kathy Bower — to stay with Marty around the clock, either in her home or theirs. Canceled checks show, in April and May of 2017, Case paid Bradford and another woman, Anne Cole, $22,780 from Martha’s estate.

Case also moved Marty’s investment portfolio away from Schubert, Marty’s longtime financial adviser, to someone new, locking Jen out of monitoring transactions on her mother’s accounts.

This concerned Schubert enough, a guardian ad litem report shows, for a colleague of Schubert to file a suspicious activity report. Schubert did not return calls seeking comment, regarding the result of that SAR.

“Ms. Case was withdrawing large (in the mid-five-digit range) sums of money, something Marty had never done,” a GAL report filed with the court states. “When the advisor and his business partner questioned the Conservator about this, she moved the account to another investment firm.”

Near the end of summer in 2017, Case moved Marty out of her home and into an assisted living facility, the Highlands, in Northport. Court documents show Case didn’t tell Jen about the move. When Jen learned of it, these same records show Case refused to tell Jen where her mother was.

The move infuriated Jen, but according to court records, it also upset Marty.

“Martha asked why I was doing this to her,” Case wrote, in her report to Judge Nelson. “I reminded her that she has a disease and that the doctor said she needed 24/7 care. I told her that it was my job to make these decisions to look out for what is her best interest in where she lives.”

Case appeared to view a Mother’s Day gift to Marty from Jen — fleece-lined Crocs the color of Pepto Bismol that Jen mailed to her mother — as something nefarious.

Shortly after Mother’s Day in May 2017, Case filled out the paperwork for a personal protective order against Jen, stating in the application that recent mail and other communication from Jen was upsetting Marty.

PPOs are court documents mandating separation between alleged victims and their suspected abusers. They are signed by a judge and violators can be arrested.

“It cemented her control,” Jen said. “If I didn’t contest it, I would have never seen my mother again.”

Fighting Back

Jen said she tried to fight back against the court actions involving her mother, from the emergency guardianship petition by APS, to Johnson’s guardian ad litem report, to the PPO, but was unable to stop what she later referred to as a runaway guardianship train.

Jen said she remembers feeling angry and powerless until she hired her own lawyer, Andrew Shotwell of Smith & Johnson Attorneys P.C., a Traverse City firm. Records show Martha’s sister-in-law Lynne Hackenberger also had concerns about Marty’s guardianship and hired Traverse City attorney, Adam Lett, to contest Case’s appointment.

In December 2017, Case moved Marty from the Highlands in Northport to French Manor, an assisted living facility in Grand Traverse County. By changing the county Marty lived in, Case also changed probate court jurisdictions. Stanton, not Nelson, presided over Grand Traverse County’s probate court.

Stanton responded to petitions by Shotwell and Lett by revoking the PPO and assigning a new guardian ad litem, Traverse City attorney Janet Mistele, whose lengthy reports to the judge read like a spy novel.

“Despite Marty’s extensive estate planning, when APS received a referral from Simeon’s son alleging financial exploitation and physical neglect of Marty, rather than doing a proper fact-based investigation and attempting to confirm or dispel information from and about Marty’s daughter, APS accepted as true hearsay and other unverified information provided by members of Marty’s previously estranged family,” Mistele said.

Simeon maintains the accusations investigated by APS were legitimate and only a change of venue kept Jen from being investigated by law enforcement, a characterization Mistele in her report found no evidence of and Jen vehemently denies.

“It should be noted,” Mistele said, “that as to the allegation of financial exploitation, two separate prosecutors (Leelanau and Grand Traverse) have apparently reviewed the case and declined criminal charges based upon prior informal business dealings between mother and daughter.”

Mistele in her report also said she was “very disturbed” by photos posted on social media of Case, Hagerman, Bradford and Bower socializing and recommended Case be removed or allowed to resign as Marty’s guardian and conservator.

Lett flagged concerns about improper communications between Case, Matthias Johnson and Judge Nelson. Johnson on June 8, 2017 sent a private note to Nelson, copying Hagerman and Case, about Jen’s efforts to terminate the PPO. Communications outside of court with the judge that don’t include all parties are banned under the Judicial Code of Conduct.

Lett also lambasted Case’s relocation of Marty.

“Hiding the ward from family and friends is not among the powers of a Guardian,” Lett wrote in a court filing. “This woman believes she does not answer to anybody. That cannot be true.”

Case’s reputation with the court began to fall apart. She missed multiple filing deadlines and no-showed court hearings, not only in Marty’s case, but for seven other guardianships to which she’d been appointed.

Case was not criminally charged, though Judge Stanton took an unusual step and issued bench warrants for Case’s arrest. No arrest was made and Case’s accountings were later submitted and accepted by the court.

APS filed petitions to remove Case from all eight guardianship cases, which Stanton signed. Discipline came for Case at her COA job, when a subsequent COA director, Cindy Kienlen, ordered her suspension, as well as an apology to Judge Stanton.

Case refused, then filed retirement paperwork.

Case declined repeated requests for comment, stating she felt previous media accounts of Marty’s guardianship did not portray her fairly.

A note in her COA personnel file, from an interview Kienlen conducted with Case, provides some insight into Case’s actions.

“You stated that after taking over the first guardianship you quickly became overwhelmed by the amount of work required in the Guardianship and Conservatorship process,” Kienlen wrote, in a Sept. 18, 2018 letter to Case. “You denied receiving the mailings of bench warrants and subpoenas for your appearance at court. This is highly suspect that all mail and communication were not received by you, especially since Amanda (Probate Court Register Amanda Flowers) reported that none of the letters mailed to you were returned to the court.”

On Dec. 6, 2018, records show Jen filed a complaint with Michigan’s Attorney Grievance Commission against Johnson for his ex parte communications with the judge.

The Grievance Commission investigated, records show, though did not take further action. Johnson did not return a request for comment, though records show he responded to the complaint with an explanation and an apology.

Nearly everyone involved in the case sent ex parte communications to Judge Nelson, Johnson said, and this was his first-ever guardian ad litem assignment.

“I understand the seriousness of this offense and the repercussions that it could have had and that was not my intention,” Johnson’s Feb. 14, 2019 response states. “I would like to apologize to Ms. Rodgers for this error, to the Court for in any way placing them in a difficult situation, and to the commission for this action.”

Michelle Hagerman, the APS worker who triggered Marty’s guardianship and recommended Case, was “reassigned” to another state department more “suitable” for her, a court filing states.

Stanton appointed a different professional guardian to take over Marty’s case. Jen said this new guardian was expensive — she charged $70 an hour – but it was worth it.

Case, according to court documents, was providing her services at no cost.

Unanswered questions

Marty Rothaug died Oct. 14, 2020 and Jen says she believes stress from the guardianship proceedings hastened her death.

“It killed my mother,” Jen said, adding she agreed to share her story publicly, in hopes it might educate other families about guardianship and conservatorship and prevent them from experiencing similar grief.

Unanswered questions still keep her up at night, she said, even today more than five years later.

How did a key to Marty’s safety deposit box end up in the parking lot of Huntington Bank, where it was found by a staff member? Jen said her mother’s most valuable pieces of jewelry were later accounted for, though she’d like to know what happened to her father’s watches.

How could caregivers hired by Case burn through $125,000 of Marty’s life savings in only eight months? Who is supposed to vet those expenses?

And finally, how is it that Case, with her garnishments and COA disciplinary record, was appointed at all?

“They felt Jill Case was a better person to take care of her than her own daughter,” Rodgers said. “That’s the courts.”

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‘We need to take care of the elderly’: Task force continues to work toward protecting seniors

Elder Abuse and Exploitation Task Force working with multiple agencies in Bexar County

The Elder Abuse and Exploitation Task Force has made great strides in the past two years in protecting the elderly and prosecuting cases of elderly abuse. But officials admit more needs to be done.

By Erica Hernandez, Digital Journalist/Courthouse Reporter
     Misael Gomez, Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO – The Elder Abuse and Exploitation Task Force has made great strides in the past two years in protecting the elderly and prosecuting cases of elderly abuse.

State Sen. José Menéndez of San Antonio, along with Probate Court 2 Judge Veronica Vasquez saw a need for the task force that was created in 2020.

“We have seen continuously that we’re usually ranked second under Harris County for elder abuse and exploitation and for cases that are reported to Adult Protective Services as well,” Vasquez said.

Since 2020, the task force has seen a lot accomplished among different agencies who work with them.

The district attorney’s office has added a prosecutor solely dedicated to elderly fraud cases, Adult Protective Services have hired more investigators and local financial institutions are helping catch financial abuse.

“What we want is to be so aggressive with protecting elderly that we show the rest of the state, the nation, that we’re going to prosecute people,” Menéndez said. “We need to take care of the elderly.”

Now the focus is shifting to get more legislation passed protecting the elderly and educating the public on the importance of reporting cases of abuse.

“If you wind up not reporting it, that can lead to misdemeanor charges or whatever it may be,” Vasquez said. “So people really need to understand that there are serious consequences to not actually reporting these types of crimes.”

The Texas Abuse Hotline to report cases of elderly abuse is 1-800-252-5400. This is the same hotline that child abuse cases are also reported.

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

Probate judge plea deal nets 1-year term for 3 DUI charges

Probate Judge Peter Mariano. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

WATERBURY — Probate Judge Peter Mariano was sentenced to one year in jail but served just four days for three drunken-driving charges and driving with a suspended license.

Mariano pleaded guilty to two counts of operating under the influence as a first offender and second degree reckless endangerment after Mariano’s attorney Mark Ouellette and attorney Jacqueline McMahon from the Office of the Chief’s State’s Attorney reached a disposition at Waterbury Superior Court on Monday.

Mariano, 61, a Republican from the borough, is nearing the end of his fifth, four-year term as probate judge. State Rep. Rosa C. Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, who is not running for re-election to the legislature, is challenging Mariano at the Republican party’s nominating convention May 18.

The state decided to substitute what was originally charged as a DUI for a reckless endangerment in the second degree, also a Class B misdemeanor. The charge which carried a one-year sentence was suspended.

The state declined to prosecute two cases of Mariano operating a vehicle under a suspended license as part of the agreement. Mariano was not under the suspension for a DUI arrest for one of the charges.

“It’s never going to happen again,” Mariano said before his case adjourned and he was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs. “It’s an awful thing that I did, and I want to be treated like anybody else for what I’ve done.”

Mariano served his four days at New Haven Correctional Center in New Haven on Whalley Avenue. He also was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine not including some fees and costs one one charge.

Naugatuck police last year charged Mariano, judge of probate for Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Prospect and Middlebury, with three counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and driving with a suspended license. Each incident happened in a span of about a month.

On April 28, 2021, Naugatuck police received a complaint that Mariano was sitting in his driveway on Hillside Avenue making concerning comments which prompted officers to conduct a welfare check. Mariano was not home at the time they arrived, but officers observed his vehicle driving on the roadway and he stopped his car partially into his driveway, according the court documents.

Mariano failed to perform a standardized field sobriety and was placed under arrest. Officers found multiple empty and unopened single serve bottles of wine in his vehicle. Mariano refused to submit to a breath test at the police station, court documents state.

On May 18, 2021, Naugatuck police were dispatched to D&D Liquors at 143 Bridge St. on report of a man who had fallen in the parking lot. Officers were advised on route that the man had entered a black SUV and attempted to exit the parking lot.

Responding officers approached the SUV and detected a strong odor of alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle. He was later identified as Mariano.

Officers requested Mariano perform standardized field sobriety tests. He was stumbling and required assistance to walk and failed to perform the tests to standard. Mariano was instructed on other tests and given multiple opportunities but ultimately refused to perform them, court transcripts state.

Mariano was arrested and transported to the police station where he provided two breath samples at 0.3374 and 0.3439. The state’s legal alcohol limit for driving is 0.08.

On June 1, 2021, approximately 4:30 p.m., police officers were dispatched to this Mariano’s residence on suspicious motor vehicle complaint in the driveway. Officers arrived to Mariano in the driver’s seat of his car in his garage and when they approached the car, officers detected the odor of alcohol and vomit from his breath. There were also a number of empty and full wine bottles in the car. Officers weren’t able to locate the car key either on Mariano or in the car.

Mariano admitted to drinking before their arrival and that he was way over the legal limit. He had difficulty maintaining his balance as well.

Attorney Ouellette said in court that provided Judge Frank A. Iannotti with a package of letters from various providers where Mariano has undergone treatment and counseling.

“He’s nine months sober,” Ouellette said. “He’s doing very well and we feel that the disposition that we arrived at is a fair one and my client’s willing to accept that.”

Iannotti gave some conditions including substance abuse evaluation and treatment if necessary, random urine tests and for Mariano to not operate a motor vehicle on the highways of the state of Connecticut without a valid license, insurance, and/or interlock device. Mariano will be using the interlock device for about four years according to Ouellette.

Mariano will be able to return to his role as Probate Judge after he serves his time. There will be a judicial hearing to rule on Mariano’s inactive status as an attorney but it’s not known when, Ouellette said subesquently.

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‘I hope you starve:’ Woman accused of stealing $1M from elderly mother

Deborah Burnette (Henderson Police Department)

By Elaine Emerson

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - A woman is accused of stealing $1 million from her elderly mother, then telling her mother she hoped she would starve and die.

Deborah Burnette faces charges of theft and exploitation of an elderly person in connection to an investigation by Henderson Police in early 2021.

HPD said the fraud investigation began Feb. 27, 2021. The daughter-in-law reported her mother-in-law had over $1 million stolen from her bank account. The victim said her daughter Burnette had stolen the money, according to a warrant affidavit from HPD.

According to the mother, Burnette offered to come out from North Carolina to help take care of the woman’s ill husband. The mother accused Burnette of being verbally abusive and bullying her into adding Burnette to her bank account, the report said.

The bank told the mother and daughter-in-law that Burnette had wired just over $1 million out of the mother’s account.

When Burnette was confronted, the mother said Burnette admitted to taking the money and said, “I hope you starve now,” and “I hope you die so I can spit on your grave,” the warrant documents said.

The mother said Burnette was verbally and physically abusive, the warrant said. The mother opened a new account so her daughter couldn’t access it.

The money was frozen in Burnette’s account, the warrant said, and she reportedly called and threatened the mother about it, saying she would sue her.

Burnette told police she didn’t steal the money but was keeping it so she could “safeguard it” from the sister-in-law.

Burnette’s next court hearing was set for May 24.

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'Con woman' sentenced for stealing $6,500 from her grandmother in Bucks County

- A woman will spend one to two years in prison after stealing thousands from her 89-year-old grandmother.

Rebecca Scott, 43, pled guilty to third-degree felonies of financial exploitation of an older adult or care-dependent person, theft by unlawful taking and access device fraud and forger.

In court Wednesday, Scott admitted she stole and cashed her grandmother's check for $6,500, and ordered a box of checks to her home in Bensalem.

She also said she attempted to take another $10,000 from her grandmother by altering another one of her checks, according to the Bucks County DA's Office.

A judge, who described Scott as a "con woman," sentenced her to one year less a day to two years less a day in county jail, plus five years of probation. She was also ordered to repay all the money she stole with payments of $200 a month. 

"Scott is a serial thief who violated her 89-year-old grandmother’s trust," said District Attorney Matt Weintraub.

Scott's grandmother reported she was a victim of financial exploitation in September 2021.

She told officials that four checks went missing from her checkbook after her granddaughter made an unexpected visit. One of the checks was later cashed for $6,500 and used to pay for Scott's rent, officials say.

In April 2021, the grandmother says she agreed to lend Scott $2,000. She discovered Scott changed the check amount to $12,000 after she was left with insufficient funds while grocery shopping.

Another incident occurred in June 2021. Scott's grandmother discovered Scott had ordered new checks with her name and bank account printed on them, but they were being shipped to her granddaughter.

Scott had three prior convictions of financial crimes, including getting a $4,000 loan from a 75-year-old family friend and then repaying her with bad checks, making four unauthorized transactions for more than $4,400 from another person’s bank account and a check-kiting scheme that cost a Bensalem bank $4,000. 

This is the Bucks County's first conviction of its new "financial exploitation of an older adult or care-dependent person" law. The law, which went into effect on August 29, 2021, makes it a felony for a family member or other persons in a position of trust to wrongfully or without authorization take or attempt to take money, property or other assets from older adult or care-dependent person. 

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Saturday, May 14, 2022