A Pittsburgh area woman was recently charged with Forgery, Theft, and Tampering with Records after allegedly forging a power of attorney, a will, and other documents to seize control over assets of her 79-year-old neighbor. The neighbor had fallen down the stairs, and the injuries led to her demise a few weeks later. It is alleged that the thief seized the opportunity to capitalize on the elderly woman's misfortune by claiming to be a niece, executing a forged power of attorney to have direct access to the money and other assets of the elderly woman, and forging a will that left all of the woman's assets, including a house, to the thief.
How Did the Neighbor Steal?
After the elderly woman passed, her house passed to the fake niece because of the forged will. The thief then rented the home for the next two years to a man. The tenant was questioned by neighbors about the health of the former owner and how the current owner came into possession of the house. The tenant became suspicious, conducted his own investigation, and actually found the real niece of the deceased woman. At that point, the man then contacted law enforcement regarding his findings, and the subsequent police investigation led to the filing of the criminal charges noted above.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
In this situation, there is a good possibility that the criminal defendant could face a mandatory minimum sentence for Crimes Against the Elderly, set forth in 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9717. This mandatory minimum sentence law provides that if the victim of certain crimes is over 60 years old and the defendant is under 60 years old then a mandatory minimum sentence could apply. If the offense committed is Theft by Deception, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3922, then the defendant is facing a 12-month incarceration minimum sentence. Theft by Deception punishes a person that "intentionally obtains or withholds property of another by deception." Here, the woman deceived others by claiming that she was the niece of the deceased homeowner, and she also filed forged documents to withhold the transfer of the deceased woman's property to the rightful heir.
While a mandatory minimum sentence may be applicable, most mandatory minimum sentences must be invoked by the district attorney. For example, in State College felony drug delivery cases, the drug-free school zone mandatory minimum sentence is often applicable because of Penn State University. If the drug defendant accepts a plea offer from the Centre County District Attorney's Office, the prosecution will not pursue imposition of the two-year mandatory minimum school zone sentence. However, if the drug defendant has a preliminary hearing, files pretrial motions, or proceeds to a trial, the Centre County District Attorney often threatens to seek imposition of the mandatory minimum sentence. When mandatory minimum sentences are possibly applicable, the prosecution has substantial leverage against the criminal defense attorney in plea negotiations.