Anne L. Chavis, who pleaded guilty to stealing from a disabled veteran under her care while working as a court-appointed conservator, was sentenced Wednesday to a year in jail and ordered to pay $92,000 in restitution to eight clients. The fine represents a fraction of the money she controlled for her clients but never accounted for.
Chavis, 74, stood silent before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Horwitz as he quickly read her sentence, which had taken months to hammer out.
"The result of this case will not make the veterans whole; however, some degree of justice was meted out to Ms. Chavis," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Christian Gullon, who had requested a longer prison sentence.
Chavis' lawyer said he expected her to serve no additional time in jail, adding that she already had spent more than three months behind bars. Women convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses are eligible for release after serving 10% of their time, said a jail spokesman. Chavis will be on probation for three years.
Chavis pleaded guilty in April 2007 to forging documents and lying to the court in order to steal from a veteran suffering from psychosis and seizures, one of her many clients. In exchange, charges of theft involving seven other clients were dropped.
The plea deal called for a range of incarceration and restitution, depending on negotiations and the result of a three-month evaluation by prison officials. The report was mixed, officials said, with the warden calling for prison time and a psychologist recommending a probationary sentence.
It is unclear how Chavis will pay the ordered restitution. A retiree, she transferred her home and another property into the name of one of her daughters years ago.
Chavis' arrest followed an investigative series by The Times about professional conservators, which highlighted her conduct. The local probate court and Veterans' Affairs officials had appointed Chavis to oversee the lives of more than four dozen vulnerable county residents. Court records and interviews revealed that she then neglected and exploited the men and women under her care, failing to pay their bills or tell them what she was doing with their money.
She used her clients' checkbooks to pay her lawyers without court approval, records and interviews showed. She acknowledged in an interview that she purchased the home of an elderly woman under her care at a discount but masked the transaction as a purchase by her lawyer. She also admitted to facilitating a will for one of her clients, a World War II veteran, which disinherited his relatives in favor of his caretaker, a business associate of Chavis.
Chavis, a former nurse and active churchgoer, ran a boarding home for disabled veterans before federal officials tapped her to become a conservator. Had they investigated her background, they would have discovered that Chavis had filed for bankruptcy and been accused by the nursing board of neglecting clients at a nursing home while she slept in a patient bed.
Instead, they gave her dozens of cases, which were rubber-stamped by judges in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. For years, the L.A. County court system failed to notice that she didn't file legally required financial reports.
Court officials finally stripped her of her powers. But between $500,000 and $1 million of her clients' money has never been accounted for, said John Mickus, a probate lawyer and conservator whom the court asked to step in.
Mickus said Veterans Affairs officials have agreed to reimburse missing money not covered by financial bonds paid by Chavis' clients because federal law holds them liable.
"They can hardly say they weren't negligent," Mickus said, "because they were giving her new cases at the same time they were citing her for contempt in other cases."
The Times' articles led to local and statewide reforms. Among them, Los Angeles County court officials now set hearings in advance to ensure that conservators file court reports when required. New state laws also require tighter vigilance by court investigators, training and licensing of professional conservators, and greater scrutiny of emergency appointments.
Chavis had denied any wrongdoing and blamed the debacle on her lawyer.