Trial starts for ex-cop accused of elder fraud
A jury was selected in Nevada County Superior Court Tuesday to decide if the actions of a former Placerville police officer were outright theft or a legitimate financial planning strategy.
Frank B. Santos Jr. is charged with one count of felony elder abuse against Florence Pena, a Nevada City woman who died Aug. 20 at Siena Care Convalescent in Auburn.
A Nevada County native, Santos plead innocent at his August 2001 arraignment to charges of theft and embezzlement of funds and property valued at more than $50,000.
During his preliminary hearing in December, Santos said he bought a top-of-the-line SUV with Pena’s money and transferred assets from her accounts to his so she could qualify for MediCal.
Defense witness Mark Hyjack, a certified elder law attorney, testified at the preliminary hearing that in order to qualify for MediCal, a person needs to have limited assets and income. One financial strategy, Hyjack testified, is to spend assets down to the point of eligibility.
Santos gained power of attorney to oversee Pena’s assets, was named sole beneficiary in her will, and attempted to get a quit- claim deed to her Nevada City house, according to court records.
Deputy District Attorney Jim Phillips contended during last year’s preliminary hearing that Santos gained power of attorney to oversee Pena’s assets for his own benefit and not hers.
During opening arguments Tuesday, Phillips told the jury that Santos withdrew over $70,000 from Pena’s bank accounts between April 5 and May 2, 2001.
Public defender Richard Wilcox told the jury that Santos grew up in a family that taught respect for elders. “Frank grew up taking care of people and helping elders,” he said.
Wilcox said Santos gained power of attorney to handle Pena’s financial affairs under the advice of the county’s Adult Protective Services agency.
Wilcox said “people” then started talking to Santos about MediCal spend-down theories and told him he could help Pena qualify by transferring money from her accounts.
“In discussions with these people, it became apparent that (Santos) needed to protect (Pena’s assets),” Wilcox told the jury.
“Mr. Santos is not guilty of any crime. He tried to help a friend in need.”
Santos appeared at Tuesday’s hearing dressed in a dark suit and tie.
The former Nevada Union football player walked with a slight limp when he left the courtroom following the morning session of the first day of a trial expected to spill into next week.
Santos testified during his preliminary hearing last year that he started doing yardwork and chores for Pena when he was age 14.
Santos said the relationship turned into a friendship and that he started caring for Pena when her physical and mental capacities began to deteriorate.
Tuesday, Placerville Police Chief Steve Brown said Santos was with the department from December 1996 until he resigned March 12.
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