Part 6: Jane Jacques was too cognitively
impaired to realize that the court-appointed lawyer entrusted to manage
her money had secretly stolen $130,000 from her. But lawyer Janet
Mastronardi never spent a day in jail.
SIXTH OF NINE PARTS
Jane Jacques, a
cognitively impaired elderly Rhode Islander, was robbed of nearly
$130,000. The money wasn’t stolen by a scam artist or a family member.
It was taken by her court-appointed guardian, a Harvard-educated lawyer
who was handling Jacques’ finances since she couldn’t do so herself.
Janet Mastronardi faced up to 60 years in prison for the charges filed
against her, but after she admitted her guilt and paid full restitution,
she did not serve any time behind bars. Her sentence was 30 months in
Jacques was an amateur artist from North
Kingstown who had led historical tours throughout Rhode Island. She had
no children and was widowed for the last 16 years of her life. Toward
the end, she suffered from vascular dementia and experienced multiple
strokes. She died in 2013 in the West View Nursing Home in West Warwick.
While Jacques was a patient there, the nursing home contacted the
Alliance for Better Long Term Care, asking for help in finding Jacques a
legal guardian to handle her finances. Jacques had blood relatives who
lived in New England, according to court records, but she did not want
them involved. A doctor who determined that Jacques was unable to manage
her own affairs noted in his report that she was “paranoid about people
stealing from her.”
She had given power of attorney to an 85-year-old neighbor, but that arrangement didn’t work out.
Alliance, a federally funded nonprofit that seeks to promote the
quality of life and care of people living in nursing homes, asked
attorney Mark Sjoberg to petition the North Kingstown Probate Court for a
guardianship for Jacques, according to Kathleen Herren, the state’s
ombudswoman for long-term care.
In September 2005, when Jacques was 80, Mastronardi was appointed her
guardian by a North Kingstown probate judge. The Alliance had
previously recommended Mastronardi to be a guardian for several other
cognitively impaired clients, and Herren said that she was “very good to
her clients.” However, she said, in Jacques’ case, the Alliance did not
make the referral to Mastronardi, who is married to a lawyer in
Sjoberg’s office. It is unclear from court documents who made the
The initial inventory filed with the probate court shows Jacques as having $554,831.47 in cash and $365,000 in real estate.
Each year, as
required by law, guardians must file accountings with the probate
court. Five years into the guardianship, Donna Halsband, Mastronardi’s
legal assistant/bookkeeper, started to get suspicious.
September 2010, Halsband was finalizing the annual accounting for the
guardianship when she noticed that bank statements showed Jacques had
about $92,000 more than was listed on her accounting. She asked
Mastronardi about the discrepancy. Mastronardi quickly gave her a new
accounting that reconciled the differences.
Two months later,
Halsband was writing checks from the Jacques account to cover
Mastronardi’s legal fees, which had been approved by the probate court.
The next day when she went to photocopy an office file, she found a
piece of paper that had been left in the machine. It showed three checks
written to Mastronardi, with the same dates and in the same amounts as
the checks Halsband had written for her the day before.
though it was Halsband’s job to write all checks to Mastronardi for her
legal fees, these checks bore Mastronardi’s handwriting. The funds being
withdrawn were from a Citizens Bank account belonging to Jacques that
Halsband did not know existed.
Halsband’s first reaction was that
she had mistakenly forgotten to list the Citizens Bank account in the
court filing that listed Jacques’ assets. She combed through the Jacques
files looking for the account, eventually concluding that she hadn’t
made a mistake — her boss had never made her aware of the money or the
“That’s what brought it all to a head,” she said. “It was just her
and I in the office, so my first thought was, I need to cover my ass
because this wasn’t something that I did. So I wanted to make sure that I
had all the proof that it wasn’t just an account that I’d missed.”
It didn’t take long for Halsband to become a whistleblower.
worked for Mastronardi for seven years, first part time from home and
then as a full-time employee working out of the law office that
Mastronardi had set up in the East Greenwich home she shared with her
husband, lawyer William Stanton.
Halsband was Mastronardi’s only
employee, and over time the two grew quite close. Mastronardi would come
to the Halsbands’ for Thanksgiving dinner. The two women would go
Christmas shopping together, and they would periodically even take
“mental health” days off from work and go to the Twin River Casino,
Halsband never told Mastronardi that she’d found
evidence of the duplicate checks Mastronardi had written to herself. But
once she’d found the copies, she became scared that she might be drawn
into an investigation of Jacques’ missing money, and maybe even
suspected of wrongdoing. To protect herself, she made copies of the
photocopied checks that Mastronardi had written to herself, and she
began scouring the law office to see if she could find more.
found a folder on Mastronardi’s desk labeled “JJ” that wasn’t kept with
the office’s other Jane Jacques files. The papers inside made Halsband
even more suspicious. They showed that Jacques had two investment
accounts Mastronardi had failed to report to the court. She had used the
funds to open two new Citizens Bank accounts in Jacques’ name, totaling
more than $214,000.
One of the accounts was the one she had used
to double-pay herself. There were photocopies of more checks that
Mastronardi had written to herself from these accounts as well, along
with a note she’d written to remind herself to destroy the file when the
accounts ran out of money.
On Feb. 11, 2011, Halsband said, Mastronardi’s husband walked into
the office and fired her without explanation. She told state
investigators she believes she was terminated because she had questioned
Mastronardi about Jacques’ unreported investments.
after her termination, Halsband compiled all the papers she’d
photocopied and anonymously sent them to the Rhode Island State Police
and the board at the Rhode Island Supreme Court that handles
disciplinary complaints against lawyers. She alerted them to what she
believed the evidence indicated — that Mastronardi had stolen
$144,989.21 from Jacques over the previous year.
was Mastronardi’s bookkeeper and sole employee, it didn’t take long for
authorities to suspect that she was the whistleblower. When an
investigator showed up at Halsband’s home, she admitted that she’d sent
In March 2013,
a month before
Jacques’ death, Mastronardi was charged by the Rhode Island State Police
with three felonies: embezzlement, larceny and exploitation of an elder
for stealing $129,107.57 from Jacques. She ultimately pleaded no
contest to embezzlement and exploitation of an elder, and the state
dropped the felony larceny charge as part of a plea deal. While the case
was pending, Mastronardi made full restitution.
At the 2014
sentencing hearing, state prosecutor Maureen Keough, now a Superior
Court judge, argued that Mastronardi deserved to go to prison for what
she had done to her elderly and cognitively impaired client. The crime,
she argued, was particularly troubling given Mastronardi’s occupation as
a lawyer, and as someone whom Jacques had trusted to look after her
“She took that trust and she abused it and she
used it for her own financial gain,” Keough told now-deceased Superior
Court Judge Walter R. Stone at the beginning of the hearing.
But in the end, the deal struck with the prosecution included no prison time.
Noting that Mastronardi had made full restitution and was in
treatment for a gambling problem, the judge sentenced her to seven years
in prison, with 30 months to serve on home confinement and the
remaining 54 months suspended with probation.
At the sentencing
hearing, Mastronardi’s lawyer, Peter DiBiase, argued that a gambling
addiction had driven his client to steal from Jacques. The state found
that she had run up large losses at nearby casinos through 2012,
totalling more than $140,000 at Foxwoods, almost $90,000 at Twin River
and more than $100,000 at Mohegan Sun.
At sentencing, Stone said
he was impressed that Mastronardi was attending a program for people
with gambling addictions. “There is no question in my mind that your
gambling addiction led to some of the conduct involved here,” he said.
Just before her
sentencing, Mastronardi sold her East Greenwich home to make
restitution to Jacques’ living relatives. DiBiase said in court that the
sale of this house displaced Mastronardi’s elderly parents and two
adult children who had been living with her and Stanton. Mastronardi, he
said, had “gone through great sacrifices to try to make her misconduct
right.” He quoted Mastronardi’s husband, who claimed that they now lived
a “very basic” life in an inexpensive Warwick rental.
never mentioned in court was the property on Martha’s Vineyard that
Stanton and Mastronardi had bought in November 2011, nine months after
Halsband reported Mastronardi to the police. The Oak Bluffs property was
purchased for $399,000, according to land records. Property records
also show that Mastronardi and Stanton took out a $279,000 mortgage to
make the purchase, from Edgartown National Bank. There are two
gingerbread-style cottages on the property, each with two bedrooms. The
two homes together are assessed at $593,000, according to a 2018 town
When asked recently if he had known about the Martha’s
Vineyard property, DiBiase declined to answer, citing attorney-client
privilege, and abruptly hung up the phone.
Full Article & Source:
Elder abuse in R.I.: When a ‘guardian’ becomes a fiscal predator