Web Posted: 07/21/2009 12:00 CDT Elder fraud case costs upholsterer
By Craig Kapitan - Express-News
A well-known local upholstery business was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in fines Monday after pleading no contest to trying to charge an elderly customer more than $62,000 for drapes that cost them $2,250 to purchase and install. Arrow Upholstery & Drapery was ordered to pay a $102,000 fine in the second-degree felony elder fraud case.
The company's owner, Sidney Lachman, wasn't in the 399th District Court when the ruling was issued. Neither was his son-in-law Scott Fahrenthold, who made the sale.
Attorney Jesse Sepulveda, who entered the no contest plea on behalf of the business, declined comment Monday.
Bertha Briggs, who lived in the Towers retirement community, contacted Arrow Upholstery in April 2006 to install five window drapes. The business initially charged her $62,000 but later agreed to reduce the amount to $11,300 after her daughter complained, according to court documents.
Despite the steep reduction, Briggs was still overcharged, her daughter, Sharon Morey, said in court documents.
Morey traveled from California to meet with the Bexar County district attorney's office in June 2006, after getting a call from her mother's bank attempting to verify a $35,000 down payment check to Arrow Upholstery. The daughter said Briggs, who died this year, was 90 years old and her eyesight, hearing and memory were failing at the time the purchase was made.
“She had never been good with numbers or finances, and now whatever skill she once had is virtually gone,” Morey previously said in court documents. “She frequently says to anyone, including strangers, ‘I can't see, I can't hear, but otherwise I'm all right.'”
Briggs' relatives also weren't in court Monday. It's rare but not unheard of for the district attorney's office to charge a corporation instead of an individual, according to prosecutor Joanne Woodruff. In such cases, there is no possibility of prison time, but a business can be fined up to twice the amount deemed fraudulently taken, she said.
Had an individual been prosecuted instead, the maximum fine would have been $10,000.
The key element that made this incident elder fraud instead of merely an unethical sale was Briggs' lack of mental facilities, Woodruff said.
“It's rarely a criminal offense to overcharge someone,” she said. “But due to the diminished capacity and the exorbitant price charged ... it became a criminal act.”
Woodruff suggested that elderly residents help avoid such scams by allowing a trusted relative to review bank statements. As part of Monday's plea agreement, the employee who sold Briggs the curtains agreed to plead guilty at a later time in misdemeanor court to deceptive business practices. Elder fraud case costs upholsterer
The sad thing is they have older women in their commercials I suppose to make the elderly feel better about using their services.