Woman guilty in theft of $27,000 from widow, 88

October 02, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Westminster woman pleaded guilty yesterday in Carroll County Circuit Court to a criminal charge stemming from the theft of more than $27,000 from an 88-year-old widow.

Victoria Lynn Gouker, 31, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of fraudulent misappropriation of funds by a fiduciary, from August 1998 to August 2000, punishable by up to five years in prison. As part of a plea agreement, Gouker received a five-year suspended sentence with the conditions that she repay $16,000, have no contact with the victim -- and not provide financial counseling for anyone who is not a relative.

Gouker was living in the first block of Liberty St. in 1998 when she met Mary M. Ward, and soon provoked mistrust in a longtime friend of Ward's, who had been handling her affairs since her husband's death in 1994, according to Assistant State's Attorney Melissa O. Hockensmith, who handles white-collar crimes.

In December 1998, Ward designated Gouker as her guardian and gave her power of attorney, Hockensmith said in a statement of facts to support the guilty plea. Gouker used Ward's money to pay her own expenses, including bills from a credit card in Ward's name when Ward "had never used a credit card in her life," the prosecutor said.

Ward's neighbors first became suspicious in summer 1999, when they saw items such as her antique furniture being taken from the home and later, saw an auction there. In spring 2000, after learning that Ward's electricity was to be turned off for nonpayment, they called authorities, Hockensmith said.

Ward asked Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. not to jail her former friend because Gouker has a child.

"I feel sorry for her, I pray for her," Ward told the judge. "I don't want to see her go to jail. She has a boy and he needs his mother."

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