A group affiliated with political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. defrauded an elderly Laguna Hills widow suffering from Alzheimer's disease out of a $100,000 stock portfolio, according to a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.
The woman's attorney, Harry E. Westover, said Monday that representatives of the Fusion Energy Foundation, using a "boiler-room" telephone-solicitation technique, had defrauded Flora Whitton of "all she had."
According to her court-appointed conservator, Alden E. Andrew, the 79-year-old woman suffers from Alzheimer's degenerative disorder.
The Fusion Energy Foundation advocates the use of nuclear power through its publications and through displays at airports, where adherents carry signs bearing such slogans as "Nuclear Plants Are Built Better Than Jane Fonda!"
The foundation was one of several LaRouche-affiliated groups whose assets were seized in 1987 by federal agents seeking to collect more than $21 million in court penalties assessed against the LaRouche organization. The penalties were imposed when LaRouche officials refused to turn over financial records sought in a federal criminal investigation.
A representative of the foundation could not be reached for comment Monday.
The lawsuit, filed Friday, alleges that Whitton was the subject of a telephone fund-raising solicitation and that members of LaRouche's group then flew to Orange County from Washington to escort Whitton to her bank, where they helped her remove the stock certificates from her safe deposit box and sign them over to their foundation.
The stocks--valued at $104,452.11--were the widow's entire savings, Westover said.
Andrew, Whitton's accountant, said he discovered that the widow had given away her stock when he examined her portfolio in October, 1987. Instead of the stock certificates, Andrew said, he found receipts and thank-you notes from the foundation. He said he sought appointment as Whitton's conservator to try to recover the stock.
In a sworn statement attached to the lawsuit, Whitton's physician, Dr. Humberto Buccardo, wrote that his patient "is unable to properly provide for her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing (and) shelter . . . (and) is substantially unable to manage her own financial resources."
At the time of the donation, Whitton "did not have the mental ability to understand" what she was doing, Buccardo said in the statement.
The lawsuit says that Whitton had no contact with the LaRouche group before her donation and that "she is not interested nor ever has been interested in the battle between nuclear (and) conventional energy."
Andrew said Whitton's medical condition has resulted in conduct not in keeping with her character.
"We've had to cancel more than 25 magazine subscriptions that this woman subscribed to," Andrew said. "Computer magazines, photography magazines--this woman wouldn't even know what a computer is.
"Anytime anyone would call to sell her anything, she would buy. She was a pushover."
Her sister, Elizabeth Provan, said she and Whitton were Scottish immigrants and that Whitton came to the United States in 1930. Provan said Whitton had moved to Orange County from Indianapolis in 1964, after her husband's retirement. Her husband died in 1979.
Provan said her sister's condition makes her difficult to deal with.
"She's just not 100% oriented anymore, you know," she said.
LaRouche, a third-party presidential candidate in 1984, is best known for his theories alleging global conspiracies that often involve such disparate figures as the late British philosopher Bertrand Russell and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
One LaRouche theory accuses the British monarchy of instigating U.S. drug-abuse problems as a method of destroying the United States.
LaRouche's supporters scored some political successes in 1986 when they managed to put on the California ballot an initiative to require strict measures against AIDS victims, and a LaRouche adherent came within a few votes of winning a Democratic congressional primary in Orange County.
The same year, in Illinois, LaRouche adherents won the Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.
The AIDS initiative ultimately was defeated, as were the Illinois Democratic nominees.
LaRouche and 12 of his aides have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Boston. The indictment alleges that LaRouche followers nationwide raised millions of dollars by submitting fraudulent charges to the credit card accounts of prior LaRouche contributors and by securing loans with no intention of repaying them.
In December, a former LaRouche aide was convicted of plotting to obstruct a federal investigation of the alleged schemes. The aide is scheduled to be sentenced in Boston today.
Opponents of LaRouche have charged that he preys on elderly people who do not understand his aims.
In 1986, LaRouche and his organizations, including the Fusion Energy Foundation, were sued by an 86-year-old Berkeley woman who alleged that she had been defrauded of $60,000.
In the suit, which eventually was settled, "we alleged there was a nationwide scheme to defraud elderly people . . . (and that) there were numerous LaRouche organizations that acted as corporate shells to conceal and disperse the money," the woman's attorney, Daniel H. Bookin, said Monday.
"We alleged that they call elderly people who are lonely and isolated and keep calling and calling and calling until they finally give them their money," Bookin added.
Bookin said the LaRouche organization did not admit guilt in the settlement. He said that, under the settlement, his client had recovered the money she lost.