News Column

Mill Valley woman's caretaker pleads guilty in embezzlement case

July 13, 2014

By Gary Klien, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.



July 13--A caregiver accused of stealing money from the estate of a dead Mill Valley woman has pleaded guilty to felony charges.

Raffeella Galing Gardner, 46, of Santa Rosa admitted to grand theft, offering forged documents and embezzling from an elder or dependent adult. Several other charges were dismissed in the plea agreement.

Gardner is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 20 before Judge Kelly Simmons in Marin Superior Court. Under the negotiated plea, Gardner expects to receive a two-year jail sentence, which would translate to about a year with the standard custody credits.

Gardner's lawyer, Lucy McAllister, said her client wants to make restitution and cannot do it while she is in jail.

Gardner "deeply regrets any harm that she has caused and will certainly work hard in the future to pay back restitution owed," McAllister said.

Gardner was arrested in March following a lengthy investigation by the Marin County District Attorney's Office. It started in 2011, when county tax officials received a quit claim deed for a property on Marin Drive in Mill Valley.

The deed documents appeared to be signed by the property owner, 93-year-old Roberta Slayton Laemmert, who had a one-half interest in the property. The documents placed her share of the property in a trust that was controlled by Laemmert and her hired caregiver, Gardner.

But a review by county officials determined that Laemmert had died a month before supposedly signing the documents that included the property in the trust.

"It ... appeared that both the signing and recording of the deed had occurred after Roberta Slayton Laemmert's death," prosecutor Leon Kousharian wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

An investigator for the district attorney's office discovered that Laemmert's home was subsequently sold for $735,500. After that, $344,808.12 was wired to Gardner. The other half of the proceeds went to the heirs of Laemmert's ex-husband.

Although the trust documents appear to name Gardner as one beneficiary of many, the prosecution alleged she failed to distribute more than $200,000 to the other beneficiaries.

Two years later, after the district attorney's office had made extensive inquiries, Gardner started distributing money to some beneficiaries, though not always the full bequests, according to the affidavit. Some listed beneficiaries received no gifts at all.

During the course of the investigation, the district attorney's office also found evidence that Gardner was using the credit card of another client -- a 73-year-old woman living in Greenbrae -- to make hundreds of dollars in unauthorized purchases at Nordstrom, the prosecution alleged.

Gardner remains in custody at the county jail pending sentencing.

___

(c)2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)


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