Ignoring a prosecutor's argument that the mother of a gunman killed in the North Hollywood bank robbery is a flight risk with possible access to her son's ill-gotten gains, a Pasadena judge Wednesday reduced the woman's bail from $250,000 to $50,000.
Valerie Nicolescu-Matasareanu has been charged with abusing a mentally disabled woman. Her son, Emil Matasareanu, was one of the two gunmen killed in a shootout with police Feb. 28 after a botched bank robbery.
In reducing bail, Superior Court Judge Terry Smerling said the woman's relationship to Matasareanu should not be considered. "The fact that the defendant is the mother of a notorious criminal who was killed in a shootout can't be a factor in this matter," Smerling said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Hilda Weintraub had asked that bail be doubled amid concerns that the 54-year-old Romanian immigrant may have access to the money her son allegedly stole in earlier heists. Weintraub said Los Angeles police seized a large amount of cash from Nicolescu-Matasareanu's Altadena home.
"This women is a serious flight risk. . . . When a search warrant was served at [her home] they found $23,000. When the warrant was served she was in the process of closing out accounts," Weintraub told the court.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos denied that his client was a flight risk and said police were driven by "hysteria" surrounding her son's death.
A stone-faced Nicolescu-Matasareanu pleaded not guilty to felony counts of dependent abuse and false imprisonment as well as a misdemeanor charge of operating an unlicensed care facility. The charges stem from the March 4 discovery of a 44-year-old woman locked in a dark, foul room with no food or water in a Pasadena building owned by Nicolescu-Matasareanu. Los Angeles police searched the building as part of their investigation of Emil Matasareanu.
Investigators believe that Emil Matasareanu and Larry Eugene Phillips Jr., 26, who was also killed in the shootout, may have committed five earlier heists. Law enforcement authorities have said two of the robberies netted them a total of more than $1 million.
After the death of her son, the prosecutor said, Nicolescu-Matasareanu closed out an account holding $12,000 and attempted to close a $10,000 account she shared with her son. Authorities have frozen that joint account.
The prosecutor also alleged in court that Nicolescu-Matasareanu operated a joint account with the woman found in the Pasadena building. A $1,200 Social Security check was deposited to that account each month, Weintraub said.
The prosecutor also alleged that Nicolescu-Matasareanu had a joint account with a second woman, described by Weintraub as a possible missing person or fictional character who also received Social Security checks. Pasadena police are trying to find out if this person exists. If so, "we would seek new search warrants to try and determine the location of this person," said Cmdr. Mary Schander.
Defense attorney Geragos denied the existence of a second woman. "There is no missing person," he said.
Geragos also said the case against Nicolescu-Matasareanu would typically be handled as a misdemeanor matter by the city prosecutor with minimal bail. The filing of felony charges was clearly motivated by the robbery case, he said.
"They've just executed her son and now they want her to pay. This is utterly ridiculous," said Geragos outside the courtroom.
Geragos, who accused authorities of illegally freezing his client's bank account, said he expects her to make bail in the next few days.