Judge to rule on plea recant

Disabled woman's caregiver accused of stealing her savings

She'd acknowledged guilt

Hearing set today could clear way for restitution

April 16, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A U2 concert Nancy Fleming didn't attend, a boat she doesn't own, jewelry she doesn't have.

Those are some of the things Anne Arundel County prosecutors say Fleming, who is disabled, paid for.

But, prosecutors say, the beneficiary was the woman who was supposed to be taking care of Fleming but who stole her savings instead.

Today, Circuit Judge Clayton R. Greene is to decide if defendant Romy T. Gresham, 28, of Pasadena, can withdraw the guilty plea her lawyer, Michael S. Pappafotis, says was made a year ago because prosecutors misled him.

Gresham's plea to the theft charge came last April 28, , when she admitted there was enough evidence to convict her but did not admit responsibility for a crime. At that hearing, Pappafotis said his client, who gained power of attorney for Fleming, did spend a lot of Fleming's money while taking care of her. Ensuing negotiations between the defense and prosecution over restitution broke down.

If the plea stands, the judge will decide how much restitution -- prosecutors say it could top $50,000, the defense says it might be a fraction of that -- should be repaid.

For Fleming's family, a resolution has been slow in coming. Relatives have been losing hope of reclaiming money, which they planned to spend on health care for Fleming, 41, who is legally blind. She also has suffered diabetic comas that have reduced her mental capacities.

These days, the family makes up the $1,000 monthly shortfall for Fleming's assisted living.

"My family, we are going to take care of my sister. But a lot of elderly and disabled people don't have that. What happens to them?" said Candice Quinn, who wants Gresham sentenced to jail time and community service, as well as being forced to make restitution.

Five months after Gresham's plea in court, Pappafotis asked to take it back, arguing in court documents that he was led to believe Fleming would testify against his client although he later realized that might not happen.

He did not know this earlier because prosecutors and Fleming's relatives kept her away from the defense, he wrote.

Not so, said Clifford Stoddard, an assistant county prosecutor.

"She was prepared to testify. She was right there on the same floor," he said.

But Fleming and her family chose not to talk to the defense, nor were they obligated to, Stoddard said.

Quinn, Fleming's sister, said she is exasperated by what she considers delaying tactics by the defense.

The case against Gresham began in the summer of 1997.

Pappafotis declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said the defense is anxious to see it resolved.

Sniping in court motions has continued. Further hearings were postponed when Gresham said complications from pregnancy kept her bedridden.

But prosecutors said in February Gresham had been seen walking a dog, at a boatyard, in food stores, banks and other public places.

Her lawyer countered that she had to go out occasionally to take care of personal needs. But prosecutors argued that if Gresham could do so, then she could sit through a few hours of a restitution hearing. Gresham is 7 1/2 months pregnant.

Stoddard and police said Gresham frittered away the money she took from Fleming on a boat, hotel and restaurant bills, men's clothing and gifts. Some meals were charged on Fleming's credit cards while Fleming was in North Arundel Hospital's psychiatric ward, where Gresham had her committed, they said.

According to court papers, Gresham lives with her father and receives medical care through the county Department of Social Services. Even if she has not squirreled the money away somewhere, "she is not unemployable. She can work after she has this baby [to make restitution]," Stoddard said.

"She had impoverished herself," said Quinn. "If she is paying her attorney, why are the taxpayers paying for her pregnancy?"

Stoddard said he is ready to go to trial if Greene strikes Gresham's previous plea.

Stoddard said an overriding consideration should be that Gresham was obligated to spend Fleming's money to help Fleming.

"She was doing things for people and treating people other than Nancy Fleming," he said.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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