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O.C. conservator who looted woman's estate gets 9 years

Nearly $1 million was looted from a woman's estate in the O.C. case. The conservator was feeding an addiction to Internet gambling.

January 19, 2007|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County conservator accused of embezzling more than $900,000 from a dead woman's estate to feed an Internet gambling addiction was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison after pleading guilty.

In addition, Jennifer Ann Wenger, 53, of San Juan Capistrano was ordered to pay $840,000 in restitution as part of a plea agreement approved by Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Marc Labreche.

"We have to set an example with this case because she had a position of public trust and she violated that trust," he said. "This crime was no more than modern-day grave robbing."

During sentencing, Wenger, who sat behind a glass partition reserved for defendants, was brief in her responses to Superior Court Judge William L. Evans. She said, "Yes, I did," and "Yes" when asked whether she had signed the plea agreement and whether she agreed to its terms.

She was originally charged with 73 counts of embezzlement and faced 56 years in prison if found guilty. Under the agreement, she waived trial and pleaded guilty to three felony embezzlement charges, tax evasion and an "enhancement" for committing aggravated white-collar crime totaling more than $500,000.

Wenger's attorney, Ann J. Cunningham, did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.

Wenger was arrested Dec. 26 on suspicion of stealing funds from the estate of Goldie Carlova of Lake Forest, a former London fur designer who died at age 92 in April 2004. The estate's value was $1.06 million.

From 2004 to 2006, according to the investigation, Wenger wrote 65 checks to herself from Carlova's estate and deposited eight annuity checks to her personal account that were mistakenly issued to Carlova after her death, Labreche said.

"All the money was going from her [Wenger's] account to these foreign countries for offshore betting on the Internet," he said. "And she was gambling like you wouldn't believe."

In addition, Wenger spent her own retirement funds to gamble in Las Vegas and Southern California casinos, Labreche said. A bounced check, he said, led to her undoing.

Wenger, he said, bounced the check from her personal account, which triggered a bank inquiry and notification of estate officials monitoring conservators and Carlova's relatives.

Since 1997, Wenger had been a private conservator working in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

In addition to looting Carlova's estate, Wenger was suspected of stealing more than $70,000 from the San Bernardino estate of Hilda Bond, Labreche said. Wenger later reimbursed Bond's estate with money from Carlova's account, he said.

In a separate case, the Orange County public guardian and public administrator's office won a $1.8-million civil judgment Dec. 16, which covered loss to the estate plus interest, for Wenger's mishandling of Carlova's financial affairs.

The judgment was against two companies that bonded Wenger as a conservator and administrator. One of the firms has put a lien on Wenger's home, which was recently sold, the public guardian's office said.

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