Woman's former caretaker is ordered to repay $30,000

Funds were misspent over several months

settlement pleases family

April 18, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A woman who frittered away as much as $50,000 of the savings of the disabled woman she was supposed to be taking care of has been ordered to repay $30,000 within five years or risk imprisonment.

The sum was a last-minute figure negotiated Friday by Anne Arundel County prosecutors and the defense attorney for Romy T. Gresham, 28, of Pasadena, after her efforts to withdraw a guilty plea to theft failed.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Clayton R. Greene Jr. gave Gresham a suspended 18-month sentence, placed her on probation for five years while she makes restitution, and told her not to manage anyone else's money.

She can keep her $300-a-week office job at her boyfriend's marine business.

The outcome was a relief to the family of 41-year-old Nancy Fleming, who is legally blind and suffered diabetic comas that diminished her mental capabilities.

Relatives sought to recoup the money to help fund assisted-living for Fleming.

They also wanted to see Gresham held accountable for nearly wiping out Fleming's bank accounts.

The $30,000 figure "is pretty close. I am satisfied," said Candice Quinn, Fleming's sister, who called police into the matter nearly two years ago.

Fleming echoed the remarks.

Gresham, an acquaintance of Fleming's, was hired to take care of her in late 1996 and soon won power of attorney for her.

By July 1997, Fleming's money was nearly gone. The money went toward such items as a boat -- to which Fleming did not hold title -- and admission to a rock concert she did not attend.

Gifts, food, hotel stays

Clifford Stoddard, assistant state's attorney, said Gresham spent the money on gifts, restaurants, her legal bills and hotel stays, among other items.

Fleming benefited from none of those expenditures, he said.

Nevertheless, Stoddard said, he could not tell exactly how much was owed because he did not know what the thousands of dollars in cash withdrawals bought or who benefited from credit card purchases.

"A more appropriate sum would have been in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $12,000," Michael S. Pappafotis, Gresham's attorney, said later.

He said Gresham was under a misconception that she could spend the money the way she did and claimed that she took good care of Fleming.

"Had nobody stepped in [as caretaker], Nancy Fleming would not be alive right now. Had somebody else stepped in, it might be a very different story right now," Pappafotis said.

Said Pappafotis, "Romy and Nancy were living a quality life," replete with expensive furniture and fine dining.

Gresham entered a plea to felony theft nearly a year ago, maintaining her innocence but acknowledging that prosecutors had sufficient evidence to convict her.

"I understand that I may have made some mistakes," Gresham told Greene on Friday. "Everything I did for her, I did out of the kindness of my heart."

She said she was trying to help Fleming "escape from a terrible marriage" -- Fleming is separated from a Baltimore lawyer -- and was advised that Fleming's husband would have to pay half the bills and that she should move money out of Fleming's accounts.

She did not say who gave her the advice.

Exasperating delay

The yearlong delay between the plea and Friday's hearing exasperated Fleming's family. The two sides had frequent conflicts, as Fleming's family claimed Gresham was trying to evade responsibility.

Pappafotis argued that the allegations against his client were unwarranted. Sentencing was postponed while restitution negotiations were held, but they collapsed.

More hearings were delayed when Gresham maintained that the complications of pregnancy forced her into bed rest, though prosecutors argued that she was seen at a boatyard, walking a dog and shopping.

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