Man Must Pay $1.1 Million to Woman Bilked of Savings

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Seal Beach man was ordered Monday to pay $1.1 million to an elderly woman he befriended and then bilked out of more than $250,000 in personal savings, her attorney said.

The Orange County Superior Court jury concluded that William Sassenberg, 51, committed elder abuse by taking advantage of Dorothy M. Kelliher, a 79-year-old widow, attorney Keith D. Wisbaum said.

Sassenberg and his attorney did not return phone calls seeking comment. A woman at the Sassenberg residence hung up when asked about the verdict.

Kelliher, who now lives with family in Oklahoma, was easily influenced by Sassenberg, who befriended her and accompanied her on vacations because she was experiencing mental weakness, drinking alcohol excessively and was deeply depressed over her husband's death, according to the lawsuit.

Sassenberg began borrowing large sums of money from her and used undue influence to control documents relating to $130,000 he owed her after she sold him a piece of property in Seal Beach in 1982, Wisbaum said.

In December, 1989, Sassenberg tried to take control of a $78,000 check from Kelliher's deceased husband's insurance policy by placing it in a joint checking account that he had access to, according to the lawsuit. A suspicious neighbor helped get the money back, he said.

Sassenberg persuaded Kelliher to modify the real estate loan agreement to benefit him, such as striking interest payments, Wisbaum said.

In some instances, Kelliher did not recall signing the financial documents, according to the lawsuit filed in 1990.

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