Ex-loan officer found guilty of forgery
A former Grass Valley loan officer was found guilty of forgery Wednesday in Nevada County Superior Court, but was cleared of financial elder abuse.
Donna D. Nikkel, 52, was charged with the felony after using a credit card to charge more than $50,000 in expenses from Clifford and Patricia Smith of Grass Valley.
She had also been charged with the failure to pay back $235,000 in cash and loans to Clifford Smith, 81, and Patricia Smith, 68, of Grass Valley.
Charges of grand theft and elder abuse theft didn’t stick, but Nevada County Deputy District Attorney James Phillips said the jury clearly saw evidence of those crimes.
“We knew all along (forgery) was the strongest count. The jury just wasn’t convinced she had the initial intent to defraud,” Phillips said.
Phillips said evidence suggested Nikkel may have used up to four of Smith’s credit cards, though only one was cited in the complaint.
The Smiths expected to receive a 15 percent return on the $235,000 they loaned to Nikkel to invest. Nikkel is the owner of Mortgage Lending by Western-Sun, Inc. of Grass Valley, according to Nikkel and Grass Valley police.
Nikkel’s attorney Craig Leri of Marysville, said the jury heard testimony from witnesses who said his client was making a “good faith effort” to pay back the debts owed to the Smiths. Leri said Nikkel’s husband attempted to transfer ownership of their home to the Smiths to pay off debts his client owed the couple.
“I don’t think the loans were criminal at all,” he said.
The Smiths met Nikkel in 1995 after she purchased Mortgage Lending by Western-Sun Inc., a Grass Valley mortgage and loan brokerage firm. Clifford Smith was a retired locksmith who changed locks at Nikkel’s business a handful of times, Nikkel said in previous interviews.
Phillips said Superior Court Judge Ersel Edwards found “credible evidence” to try Nikkel on all four counts. He said jurors also heard testimony from two individuals who invested a total of $150,000 with Nikkel who were not included in the original complaint.
Nikkel faces a possibility of up to three years in prison. She could not be reached to comment. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 3.
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