Tuesday, September 21, 2010

People v. Fenderson (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 17, 2010)

"Katherine Majerus died on January 22, 2006, at the age of 96. Fenderson had served as Majerus‘s caregiver.

Deirdre Kruse is an elder law attorney, with a practice in Santa Rosa. Kruse knew Majerus for approximately 23 years. Kruse met several of Majerus‘s care providers, one of whom was Fenderson. Kruse had prepared between six and eight wills for Majerus over the years. Kruse explained that '[Majerus] had no children and . . . she only had two elderly brothers and so she was very concerned about where her estate would go upon her death. [¶] . . . [¶] . . . [S]he had cats and a dog over the years and so always her bequest had something to do with nonprofit agencies that provided assistance for animals.' Majerus never discussed naming Fenderson as a beneficiary. In fact, in all of the wills that Kruse prepared, Majerus had never made a bequest to an individual who was not a family member. In Majerus‘s 2004 will, Kruse was named as executor.

Majerus‘s 2004 will was prepared by Linda Barker Perkins, an associate attorney in Kruse‘s office. The 2004 will bequeathed $5,000 to one of Majerus‘s brothers, with the residue to be split by Guide Dogs for the Blind, Forgotten Felines, and Valley of the Moon Children's Home. No other individuals were named in the 2004 will. Fenderson‘s name was never mentioned to Barker Perkins in connection with the 2004 will.

On January 26, 2005, Majerus told Kruse 'I don‘t trust [Fenderson,] . . . but I don‘t have anybody else.' Kruse offered to help Majerus find someone to replace Fenderson, but Majerus explained that she was fearful about starting over with someone else. Kruse and Majerus had similar conversations '[m]any times' over the years. . . .

Kruse learned of Majerus's death when she saw her obituary in the paper. Both Kruse and Fenderson attended Majerus‘s funeral. At the funeral, Kruse asked Fenderson for Majerus‘s bank records, knowing that Fenderson had helped Majerus with her banking. In reply, Fenderson said that she would bring the documents 'right over' to Kruse's office. Fenderson also asked if Majerus had changed her will. Kruse did not respond.

Kruse's office did not receive any documents from Fenderson until a month or two after the funeral. In March 2006, when Kruse received bank records from Fenderson, Kruse only received records from a couple of small accounts at Washington Mutual. Kruse was concerned because her understanding was that the majority of Majerus‘s assets had been at Wells Fargo. Kruse had not received any records from Wells Fargo, where Kruse assumed the proceeds from the sale of Majerus's home had been placed. . . . Concerned that a large sum of money derived from the sale of Majerus‘s house was unaccounted for, Kruse notified law enforcement.

Kim Nadeau worked as a paralegal in Kruse‘s office between October 2005 and July 2006. Beginning in February 2006, Nadeau tried to contact Fenderson eight times to obtain Majerus's bank records. Nadeau left a number of messages on Fenderson‘s answering machine. On February 27, 2006, Nadeau spoke with Fenderson after making two prior attempts. Fenderson explained that she was in the process of moving and was looking for the bank records. Fenderson told Nadeau that she would drop the records off the following week.

Ultimately, Nadeau received Washington Mutual bank records from Fenderson on March 27, 2006. Nadeau testified that she asked Fenderson about records from a Wells Fargo account. Fenderson indicated for the first time that '[Majerus] had given her that account and that‘s why she wasn‘t providing records for that account.' Nadeau informed Kruse of Fenderson‘s statements and filed a police report. . . .

Majerus‘s Wells Fargo records show that the proceeds from the sale of her home were deposited into her checking account on February 10, 2005. The records also show that $259,000 was withdrawn from the same checking account on April 7, 2006, after Majerus's death. . . . Fuston was not successful in contacting Fenderson, despite making telephonic requests. On September 19, 2007, Fuston met with a Wells Fargo employee who provided Fuston with a copy of a cashier's check. The cashier's check was dated April 7, 2006, and was made payable to Fenderson in the amount of $304,000. A Wells Fargo withdrawal slip, signed in Fenderson's name, shows a withdrawal of $45,000 from a Wells Fargo savings account on April 7, 2006. . . .

Robert Dortch, a senior investigator with Citigroup Investigative Services, testified regarding Fenderson‘s Citibank account records. On April 7, 2006, Fenderson's account showed a $304,000 deposit. In addition, Fenderson‘s account records showed the following transactions: withdrawals of $8,341.58 for April 2006; deposits of $883.51 and withdrawals of $20,370.61 for May 2006; deposits of $824.43 and withdrawals of $8,143.91 for June 2006; deposits of $1,048.92 and withdrawals of $14,050.87 for July 2006; deposits of $418.34 and withdrawals of $9,659.24 for August 2006; deposits of $397.91 and withdrawals of $15,948.97 for September 2006; deposits of $446.15 and withdrawals of $6,677.59 for October 2006; and deposits of $216.07 and withdrawals of $198,922.39 for November 2006."

Fenderson says she was giving everything she took. As between Fenderson and attorney Kruse, I totally believe Kruse. So did the jury. The Court of Appeal holds that there's enough evidence to support the convictions. As there surely was.

Fenderson gets four years in prison. She got off easy, IMO.