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83-Year-Old Sentenced to Prison for Reagan Scam Gets New Term

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An 83-year-old Van Nuys woman, imprisoned six years ago for fraudulently opening escrow on then-President Reagan’s home, was sentenced on Tuesday to another term of two years for defrauding two elderly women.

Ann N. Roberts, who has a half-century-long arrest record for theft and fraud, was expressionless as she was taken into custody after sentencing in Van Nuys Superior Court. At previous court appearances, she has wept openly in and out of court, evoking sympathy from many observers. Police and prosecutors have derided Roberts’ public expressions of grief, saying she uses tears to elicit compassion from her victims before swindling them.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 08, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 8, 1991 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Column 4 Metro Desk 2 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Fraud charge--An article on Wednesday incorrectly reported that Ann N. Roberts, 83, of Van Nuys, had been convicted of defrauding two elderly women. In fact, Roberts was convicted in Van Nuys Superior Court of bilking a 62-year-old woman out of $8,000 but was acquitted of fraudulently obtaining $2,000 from a 76-year-old woman.

“She looks and acts like a kindly grandmother, a trustworthy person who plays on your sympathies,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Kathleen Cady said. “That makes her all the more dangerous.”

Roberts will be the second oldest woman incarcerated in the California state prison system. The oldest is 91, said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Starri Hairston. Roberts will receive no special treatment because of her age, Hairston said.

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Authorities say that in 1981, Roberts, then known as Ann Yarbrough, used grandmotherly charm and forgery skills to persuade the Reagans that she and her husband, James Yarbrough, were potential buyers of the Reagans’ Pacific Palisades home.

At one point, she personally prevailed on Nancy Reagan to drain the house’s swimming pool for inspection.

In 1983, the Yarbroughs pleaded guilty to an elaborate scheme to use phony checks to open escrow on the house. In 1985, after court-ordered psychiatric testing, Ann Yarbrough was sentenced to 40 months in prison and her husband was placed on probation.

The Reagans did not suffer any financial loss in the case. But several real estate agents involved in the escrow were defrauded. Convinced by forged documents that the Yarbroughs were wealthy, the agents accepted the Yarbroughs’ explanation that they were temporarily short of cash and gave them money in exchange for bad checks.

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On Tuesday, Cady argued for the maximum term of four years in the current case, saying that Roberts had been to prison before “but apparently hasn’t learned anything from it. And now she is preying on the elderly.”

But Judge Judith M. Ashmann, who convicted Roberts on April 12 after a non-jury trail, said the facts of the case justified only a two-year jail term.

Roberts was convicted of borrowing $2,000 that she did not intend to repay from Mildred Hendricks, a 76-year-old Van Nuys neighbor, saying she needed the money to buy a tombstone for a deceased relative.

Hendricks, who told police that she was promised $3,000 in repayment, complained to authorities in 1989 after several repayment checks from Roberts bounced.

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In the second case, Roberts was convicted of taking $8,000 from Joyce Lorigo, 62, whose son was facing drunk driving charges.

Police said Roberts promised to use the money to hire famed attorney Melvin M. Belli and to influence Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, whom Roberts described as a “close and personal friend.”

Police say there is no evidence to support any of Roberts’ claims to wealth or influence with powerful people.

According to a report by the Los Angeles County Probation Department, Roberts was first arrested in 1940 in New York City for fraud, and was arrested there again in 1941 for theft.

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In the 1950s, she was twice charged with issuing bad checks in Miami, her home for more than a decade, the report states.

After moving to California in the 1960s, she was charged several times with forgery, theft and issuing bad checks before her arrest in the Reagan case.


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