Police allege a town couple took advantage of an elderly woman with dementia by having her sign checks from her brokerage accounts in amounts up to $250,000, then diverting the money to cover their personal expenses.
Details of their alleged criminal actions are spelled out in sworn affidavits New Canaan Police prepared to obtain warrants for their arrest.
Paula Louise Halloran, 39, and Michael Michelsen, 57, of 24 St. John’s Place, unit 8, were Feb. 25 for first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny. They're accused of stealing more than $1 million from Virginia C. Bantle, an 81-year-old Greenwich resident.
In the 15-page affidavits he prepared March 22, Sgt. Peter Condos says that over the course of approximately three-and-a-half years, beginning in March 2005 and continuing through November 2008, Halloran “systematically took advantage of the advanced age and impaired condition of Virginia Bantle.”
Halloran had Bantle write checks to numerous banking institutions, accounts and credit unions where she and her husband were account holders, Condos says, and then they withdrew the money and “converted it to their own personal use,” including building a house on Block Island.
The alleged larcenous activity was brought to the attention of New Canaan Police by attorney William F. Clark, of Rodondo Beach, Calif., who said Bantle is a client and relative of his.
Condos writes that Clark provided copies of checks and a list of their ultimate destination. The sergeant says he confirmed some checks were sent directly to pay credit card debt as well finance the home they had built.
“Many of the checks seem to have been sent directly into accounts owned by Halloran,” Condos said, with the total amount of money Bantle allegedly lost to the pair $1,105,509.61.
Due to the five-year statute of limitations on larceny, checks written prior to April 2006 cannot be prosecuted, Condos says, lowering the alleged amount stolen to approximately $760,000.
Condos says the suspicious activity began when Bantle opened two accounts with the brokerage firm Smith Barney at its New Canaan office during May and June 2004, and Halloran became her financial adviser. At that time, he says, Bantles total income was listed as between $600,000 and $1.2 million, and her net worth was over $5 million.
The large amount of activity and unusual transactions in her accounts also “approximately coincides with the beginnings of her cognitive decline and memory loss,” Condos says.
Condos says Halloran met and befriended Bantle when she worked for the victim’s husband at US Tobacco, which was headquartered in Greenwich.
Halloran became employed at Smith Barney’s New Canaan office beginning in 2004. She was terminated Nov. 17, 2008, for, according to the affidavits, “gross” violations of company policy, including the acceptance of gifts without disclosing to the firm their existence.
In Connecticut a person can be charged with first-degree larceny – a B felony -- when the theft amounts to at least $20,000.
Condos says Bantle has been treated by various doctors and is diagnosed as in cognitive decline and suffering from dementia. Her mental functions deteriorated markedly in 2007, he says.
Condos says the first of the checks in question was drawn on March 2, 2005, for $25,000 to the International Professional Firefighters Foundation Inc., an organization “initiated and/or opened” two days earlier by Michael Michelsen, who is a career Wilton firefighter.
The foundation, Condos observes, “obviously appears to have been opened by Michelsen specifically to receive the Bantle money.”
After building their Block Island home, Bantle allegedly continued writing checks that went toward the defendants’ vacations, fine wine, bed and breakfast stays, and grocery and restaurant bills.
In the affidavits, Condos describes 25 checks signed by Bantle, providing the amount and intended recipient. In each case, Condos finds that the checks were written to cash, charities, accounts belonging to the defendants, or to businesses involved in the construction of their Block Island home.
On Nov. 20, 2007, Condos says, he spoke with attorney Ernest Abate, who was involved in a transaction preparing a promissory note to Bantle totaling $390,000, with Michelsen as the borrower.
The note broke down the loan as $250,000 to Harvest Homes, $115,000 to National City bank, and $25,000 to the East Hartford Federal Credit Union.
Condos says the note was never repaid. He says Abate told him his partners came to realize the defendants never intended to pay back the money. (This) “highlights the fact that the promissory note was used as a diversion for their criminal intent,” Condos says.
Michelsen has been shown to be involved in the couple’s “spending spree” (and) could not possibly be unaware of the drastic change in lifestyle they enjoyed, beginning in March 2005 and ending in November 2008, “with the infusion of approximately one million additional dollars into their various financial accounts during that time frame,” the affadavit said.
Other than for “larcenous intents,” Condos says, there is no known plausible reason why Halloran had Bantle transfer approximately $1 million of her wealth to her and her husband, who, as demonstrated, “used the money for their own personal gain. Halloran and Michelsen knowingly manipulated Bantle and took advantage of the diminished and declining cognitive abilities of the elderly victim, Condos writes.
It’s been clearly demonstrated, Condos says, that this is a case of “planned and calculated theft … to finance a lavish lifestyle.”
Condos says he spoke with Halloran and Michelsen on Feb. 23, 2011, and both declined to answer questions.
Bantle’s family has filed civil suit against Halloran, Michelsen and Smith Barney, according to Condos.
Following their arrests, Michelsen was released after posting $25,000 bond. Halloran was released on a promise to appear in court. Condos says Halloran is pregnant and due to give birth in early March.
Halloran and Michelsen are scheduled to be arraigned in state Superior Court in Norwalk April 4.
Tax records show that Halloran purchased the couple’s condominium unit on St. John Place for $415,000 on June 7, 2005.
During an interview last month, Condos said, “This is not a simple case of gift giving or loans or a financial advisor that gave bad financial advice. That’s not what happened. The warrant alleges outright theft.”
In reviewing the defendant’s financial records, “Some of the credit card companies actually break down how much the wife uses and how much the husband uses,” Condos said. “He’s used thousands and thousands of dollars and there’s no way he can say he didn’t know what was going on.”