Elder abuse case goes to the jury
Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday in a financial elder abuse case after hearing conflicting accounts in Nevada County Superior Court regarding who the alleged victim wanted to inherit her wealth.
Defense attorney Richard Wilcox called a number of witnesses Tuesday who testified that Florence Pena wanted former policeman Frank B. Santos Jr., and not her local family members, to get all of her assets.
Pena died Aug. 20 at Sienna Care Center in Auburn a week after Santos was arraigned on charges of felony financial elder abuse.
“Florence wanted everything to go to Frankie, and she was pretty adamant about that,” testified defense witness Coleman Cassel Tuesday.
Cassel is a long-time friend of Santos and witnessed the signing of Pena’s will in December 2000, which named Santos as sole beneficiary.
Santos also gained power of attorney that month to oversee Pena’s financial affairs and attempted to put the deed to her Nevada City house in his name.
Rebuttal witnesses for the prosecution, however, told a different story Wednesday in regard to who Pena wanted to take over her money and possessions after her death.
“(Pena) talked only about her brother, as far as an inheritor,” said Robert Lobell, a paralegal with Legal Services of Northern California, who was asked by Santos to draw up the will and power-of-attorney.
“Did she mention her intent to leave anything to Franklin Santos?” asked Deputy District Attorney Jim Phillips.
“No,” Lobell answered.
Since the trial began Aug. 6, Phillips has questioned the validity of the will and whether Santos used undue influence to convince the dementia-afflicted Pena to sign everything over to him,
After the last witnesses were called Wednesday morning, Phillips and Wilcox made their final arguments in the afternoon.
Phillips cited inconsistencies in Santos’ testimony regarding his plan to spend and transfer Pena’s assets so she could qualify for Medi-Cal.
Phillips scoffed at the so-called complex plan in which Pena gave her life’s savings to Santos so she could live on Medi-Cal while he benefitted from her assets.
“That’s not a rational explanation,” Phillips said. “The only rational explanation is that Frank Santos got greedy, and Florence Pena paid for it.”
Phillips said Pena’s assets dropped from $134,000 to $60,000 in a matter of weeks.
Phillips contended that Santos didn’t even apply for Medi-Cal on Pena’s behalf, and that he was aware that the nursing home in which he had placed her didn’t accept Medi-Cal.
“That kind of throws the whole Medi-Cal spend-down plan out the window,” he said.
Wilcox argued that his client had committed no crime.
“If you fairly judge Frank Santos (based on the evidence), you will return a verdict of not guilty,” Wilcox told the jury.
Wilcox said the prosecution wanted jurors to believe that Santos is conniving and evil. “But that’s not this man,” he said.
“One (tends) to want to see evil in these transactions and ignore the testimony,” he said.
Wilcox said Santos went to the county seeking advice on how to see to Pena’s long-term care.
“This is what any man trying to help a friend would do,” said Wilcox, who added that Santos and Pena had had a special relationship for more than 10 years.
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