The elderly Fresno woman down the street needed help. Her husband had died and she lived alone in her home on First Street near Alluvial Avenue.
Alicia Vasquez was 12 when she began visiting her neighbor, Eva Jean Pearson, who was struggling to keep her house clean, go to doctor appointments and shop for food because of mental illness.
Over time, Vasquez, who also goes by Pfalzgraff, moved in with Pearson and got control of Pearson’s bank account.
On Wednesday, Vasquez, 34, stood before one of the toughest judges in Fresno County Superior Court and said she was sorry for taking advantage of Pearson, who died in September 2016 at the age of 91, and draining the victim’s bank account.
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She is totally thankful for getting a second chance.
Fresno defense lawyer Sam Salhab
Because she showed remorse, and pleaded no contest to felony grand theft, Judge Brian Alvarez sentenced Vasquez to five years of probation. Alvarez allowed Vasquez to remain out of jail so she could keep her job at the IRS in order to pay back $60,000 to Pearson’s estate, said defense lawyer Sam Salhab, who represented Vasquez.
“She is totally thankful for getting a second chance,” Salhab said after the hearing.
The sentence was recommended by the Probation Department, which cited Vasquez’s lack of a criminal record, and not opposed by prosecutor Tim Donovan. Alvarez announced the punishment after Salhab submitted dozens of letters from Vasquez’s friends, family and coworkers. Salhab also submitted documents to show that Vasquez had done hundreds of hours of community service since her arrest in October last year.
“She is truly sorry for what she did,” Salhab said.
The Sheriff’s Office was alerted to the case in June 2016 when an employee at an assisted living center in Fresno reported that Vasquez was not paying for the victim’s medications and was late with care payments.
The Sheriff’s Office was alerted to the case in June 2016.
According to an affidavit by sheriff’s detective Glenn Falls, Vasquez received the victim’s power of attorney in 2011, giving her control of Pearson’s bank account. By this time, Vasquez had moved into Person’s home near Lincoln Elementary School.
The affidavit says Vasquez opened up credit card accounts on Pearson’s bank account and used Pearson’s money to pay loans that Vasquez had taken. In addition, Vasquez used Pearson’s money to buy a $20,500 car. She also misrepresented herself as the victim’s granddaughter when she sold Pearson’s 1963 Chevrolet Impala for $25,000.
When Falls began asking Vasquez questions about Pearson’s money, Vasquez declined to turn over a checkbook to Pearson’s bank account and other documents regarding Pearson’s finances, the affidavit says. In late August 2016, Pearson’s home caught fire, causing the garage to be destroyed. Investigators initially thought it was arson, but no charges were ever filed.
In his affidavit, Falls says: “I feel that Alicia started assisting Eva for the right reason.” But over time, Vasquez took advantage of Pearson, depleted her bank account, and “looked for ways to get out of her commitment.”
Salhab said on Wednesday that the strain of being a single mother with two children likely caused Vasquez to use Pearson’s money. In the end, Salhab said, Vasquez “did the right think and took responsibility for her actions.”