Aunt Gets Jail in Theft From AIDS Trust Fund : Crime: Woman went on a spending spree with $52,000 set aside for hemophiliac nephew.


A Laguna Hills woman who went on a spending spree with the $52,000 trust fund of her AIDS-afflicted nephew, whom she had raised as a son, was sentenced Friday to nine months in jail.

Deborha Jean Franckewitz, 36, who had pleaded guilty to the theft, was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to repay more than $20,000 to Channon Phipps, who suffers from hemophilia and AIDS.

Phipps was given access to his trust fund when he turned 18 last year and planned to use the money to enjoy the last years of his life. But Phipps said his aunt told him that the government had liens against the money and that he should put it in her account to protect it, according to court records.


Phipps told investigators that she then stole his new car and closed out the $52,000 account last November.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph D’Agostino said the “money was gone in a matter of weeks, (as) she spent extravagant sums, living it up, and possibly buying drugs.”

Franckewitz returned about $21,000 but had spent the rest of the money by the time she was arrested last December. She now must repay him at the rate of $400 a month.

Phipps’ two friends who attended the sentencing said he will hardly be able to live on that, much less fulfill his final dreams.

“He wanted the money so he could live it up, so he could take off for the Bahamas if he wanted to,” said Jim Gutierrez of Dana Point. “God forbid, but in all likelihood that money will not be paid off before he dies.”

D’Agostino said it would be unrealistic to expect that Franckewitz, who has no professional skills, could earn enough to pay more in restitution.


Phipps was born a hemophiliac to teen-age parents struggling with alcohol and drug problems. He was raised by his aunt since he was 1 and called her “Mom.”

At age 11, he learned that he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS through blood products provided by UCI Medical Center. In 1989, he settled a lawsuit against the hospital for $125,000. A portion of the settlement was placed in a trust fund.

In 1985, Franckewitz successfully sued the Saddleback Valley Unified School District which had refused to allow her fifth-grade nephew to attend class because of his illness. He became the first such AIDS victim in California to sue his way back to class.

Phipps is trying to live life as normally as possible. He has a girlfriend, he plays miniature golf and he enjoys hanging out with his friends.

Gabriele Gallagher of Laguna Hills said Phipps has been living with her since the controversy erupted with his aunt. Gallagher’s daughter is Phipps’ girlfriend.

“He is really trying to put this behind him. The stress of it all really takes its toll on him,” she said. “He really feels like he has been betrayed.”