Bank employees exploited elderly woman from Snohomish County

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen. The victim will receive $15,000 in restitution.

By David Rasbach / The Bellingham Herald

A Bellingham bank employee was one of two women who pleaded guilty to financially exploiting and stealing thousands of dollars from an elderly victim with mental awareness issues.

Acting with the victim’s power of attorney between 2011 and 2013, court documents show the two women wrote checks to themselves for more than $300,000, withdrew $63,000 in cash from the victim’s accounts, bought $120,000 in artwork in their own names and invested $400,000 in property and issued a loan against it to an acquaintance.

Ferndale’s Elizabeth Clair Maxwell Klein, 61, pleaded guilty Oct. 16, 2019, to three counts of first-degree theft, according to Whatcom County Superior Court documents. Klein was sentenced Dec. 4 to three months in jail, the final 30 days of which could be converted to 240 hours of community service. Klein also was ordered to pay $5,000 restitution to the victim.

Sammamish’s Michele Marie Webster, 63, pleaded guilty Oct. 16 to three counts of third-degree theft, according to court documents, and was sentenced to 364 days in Whatcom County Jail, 274 of which were suspended. Webster also was ordered to pay $10,000 restitution to the victim.

Bellingham detectives were first alerted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to suspicious bank transactions by Klein and Webster, who had been appointed co-powers of attorney for an elderly widow in Snohomish County, according to court documents filed in 2016.

A Banner Bank employee first noticed the exploitation and contacted Adult Protective Services in Snohomish County, and the FDIC was notified because Klein was an employee at Banner Bank in Bellingham and later became the manager at another Bellingham bank, documents state.

Detectives found that the victim’s daughter and son-in-law had been caring for the victim’s financial matters due to her deteriorating mental conditions, and her son-in-law had been appointed power of attorney, documents show. The daughter was a close friend to Klein and Webster, and both women were known by the victim.

After the victim’s daughter died, Klein and Webster were appointed co-powers of attorney on Jan. 23, 2011.

The FDIC found that a savings account and two other banking accounts were opened at the Bellingham Banner Bank and Klein and Webster were added to those accounts, documents state. The victim’s accounts at a Snohomish County bank were closed.

Investigators also found that in April 2011 Klein and Webster asked an attorney to review a will that they had prepared and the victim had signed that would distribute the victim’s estate equally to her three grandchildren along with Klein and Webster, documents show.

The attorney spoke with the victim in May 2011 and found she wanted her estate distributed only among the three grandchildren, records show. The attorney prepared a will to reflect those wishes.

On June 14, 2013, the attorney also prepared a durable general power of attorney for the victim, designating Ohana Fiduciary Corporation as the attorney-in-fact for the victim in place of Klein and Webster, documents show.

In reviewing the victim’s financial transactions conducted by Klein and Webster between February 2011 and June 2013 from the Banner Bank accounts, Ohana found:

Klein wrote checks payable to herself totaling approximately $182,342.

Klein wrote checks payable to Webster and Bank of America totaling approximately $121,605.

Klein made cash withdrawals, wrote checks payable to “cash” and made ATM withdrawals that totaled approximately $63,054.

Klein and Webster purchased artwork worth approximately $120,000 and registered their names as the official owners.

Invested $400,00 worth of the victim’s money in real estate. In return, the victim was listed on deeds of trust and received two promissory notes signed by an acquaintance of Klein’s, who stopped paying after only two payments.

Court documents show at least some of those funds were deposited directly into the accounts of Klein, Webster and a relative of Klein’s, and were not used for the victim’s care.

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