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The original item was published from 10/4/2016 2:14:50 PM to 10/5/2018 12:00:08 AM.

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Prosecuting Attorney

Posted on: October 4, 2016

[ARCHIVED] Puyallup woman pleads guilty to stealing more than $82,000 from elderly relative with dementia

TACOMA, WA – Today the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Elder Abuse Unit accepted guilty pleas from Jessica Sellers, 37, for eight counts of theft from a vulnerable adult. Sellers stole more than $82,000.00 from her husband’s elderly grandfather who has dementia.

“Our Elder Abuse Unit continues to successfully advocate for vulnerable adults,” said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “People should know there are heavy penalties for exploiting elders and we vigorously prosecute these cases whenever and wherever they happen in Pierce County.”

Ralph Penz was diagnosed with dementia in 2005 and soon thereafter required assistance via Power of Attorney to make financial and medical decisions on his behalf. Sellers volunteered to serve as Power of Attorney as of March 20, 2006. In October 2012 Penz moved to assisted living.

Sellers claimed the money in Penz’s account fluctuated with the stock market and it was down. She also told family members that Penz’s home sold for $350,000.00 and that after taxes and fees, the proceeds from the sale would be $290,000.00. The home actually sold for $400,000.00. After taxes and Realtor fees, a total of $359,439.56 was deposited in Penz’s account on July 22, 2013.

At the time, Sellers was unemployed and her husband was on L&I due to an injury.

Soon after the proceeds from the real estate sale were deposited in to Penz’s account, Sellers and her husband appear to have increased their spending according to family members. They purchased a new 2013 Honda Civic for $26,203.03 using a check from Penz’s account. Other expenditures included a collector car, puppies, guns, a gun safe, furniture, vacations, snowboard equipment and private lessons, a large fish tank, and home improvements. There were also two large checks written from Penz’s account to Sellers.

A letter from Sellers’ attorney claimed that Sellers and her husband asked Penz for a loan in the amount of $85,548.73. No loan documents or any specific information identifying the date or terms of the supposed loan were provided.

Dr. Indra Finch, a licensed and clinical forensic psychologist, reviewed the case (including Mr. Penz’ medical records) prior to charges being filed and reached the opinion that Mr. Penz displayed clear impairments in his functional capacities and it is more likely than not that his cognitive ability to make financial decisions was impaired by his dementia during the relevant timeframe.

Sellers’ guilty pleas include the aggravating circumstances that the victim was particularly vulnerable given his advanced dementia and that her actions constitute an abuse of trust given her position as Power of Attorney.

Sellers is scheduled to be sentenced November 2, 2016.

For more information, please contact James Lynch at (253) 798-6265, [email protected].

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