After draining a blind 92-year-old woman's bank account of $69,000, milking her credit cards dry and racking up monthly phone bills as high as $2,000, a Costa Mesa woman has paid the price.
Scheduled to face her aged accuser in a hearing today, Luseane Maikale Fuka instead pleaded guilty to embezzlement in Harbor Municipal Court and was sentenced to spend two years in state prison.
Court officials described Fuka's four-year tenure as caretaker for Grace Maupin as a calculated and cynical attempt to swindle the elderly woman out of her life savings that "is pretty typical of the profile of abuse that we see," said Joe Lehosit, chief deputy of the Orange County public guardian's office.
After becoming Maupin's caretaker in 1988, Fuka began moving family and friends into the aged woman's modest, two-bedroom house in Costa Mesa. Eventually, six adults, several children and assorted dogs and cats were crammed into Maupin's home, Lehosit said.
Court officials say Fuka began forging Maupin's signature on checks and rang up monthly phone bills between $1,000 and $2,000 rife with long-distance calls to her homeland in American Samoa. Paperwork was found in Maupin's home indicating that Fuka had applied and received over a dozen bank and department store credit cards in the senior citizen's name.
"I think (Fuka) found out how easy it was to rip her off and got greedy," Lehosit said. "I have no doubt that eventually she would have gotten (Maupin) to sign over her house under some pretense if she hadn't gotten caught."
Costa Mesa police arrested Fuka last month after a worker at Maupin's bank became suspicious of the amount and signature on a check that the caretaker was attempting to cash. The woman's two daughters, ages 3 and 8, are in the care of relatives, court officials said.
Roseanne Froeberg, an Orange County deputy district attorney, said authorities have been unable to discover what happened to Maupin's savings.
"(Fuka) has denied stealing the amount we feel she has taken," Froeberg said.
Lehosit said Maupin is embarrassed over being duped and is unwilling to talk about her experience.
"She's really very sharp, but I don't think the impact of losing all her money is hitting home yet," he said. "I think she was intimidated by all these people, strange men, living in her home."
Froeberg said that when told that Fuka was being charged with embezzlement, Maupin told her that she feels sorry about the two little girls but hopes that Fuka "gets everything that's coming to her."
Fuka was not available for comment, but her attorney, McDonald Becket of the county public defender's office, said the woman originally intended to pay the money back.
"I think she ultimately thought she would be able to return the money," Becket said. "But things got out of hand, and eventually that became an unrealistic view. This was an unfortunate thing for everyone involved."
In a highly unusual scenario, Fuka would have been transported by police today to Maupin's home to hear the frail woman testify against her in a preliminary hearing. Court officials said Maupin was too ill to travel to Harbor Municipal Court.
Fuka, however, agreed to a plea-bargain arrangement last Friday, Froeberg said.
"People need to be severely punished when they victimize an elderly person," Froeberg said. "They need to know they face prison time for ripping off senior citizens."
Fuka is the fourth caretaker in recent months to be charged with swindling a blind, elderly person in Orange County.
Earlier this month, Max Madayag, 45, was sentenced to two years in state prison for embezzling $167,000 from a blind, wheelchair-bound man in what authorities have called the largest rip-off of a senior citizen in Orange County.
In January, Leonard Dale Keeney, 54, of San Clemente was also given two years in state prison for stealing $14,000 from a senior citizen who had temporarily lost her eyesight.
Last month, Lanna Reynosa, 47, was arrested for allegedly taking $118,000 from a Lake Forest woman. Her case is still pending.