Greed will make people do terrible things.
All across the United States, predators are robbing vulnerable elderly people of their hard-earned nest eggs. I wrote about this shameful epidemic five years ago in this newspaper in an editorial series called "Theft of Elder Nation."
Most seniors are victims of their own relatives. Then, there are the thieving caretakers. Crooked mortgage brokers and bank tellers. Bogus senior investment planners. Fake nurses. Shady contractors. "Sweetheart swindlers" who pretended to be romantically interested in lonely old men and women so they can steal their money.
I thought I had seen and heard it all.
Yet I was stunned by the news earlier this month that a sitting Alameda County Superior Court judge had been taken into custody at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland where he presided over criminal cases -- on charges that he embezzled in excess of $200,000 from a 97-year-old widowed neighbor in the Berkeley Hills. Most shocking is the fact that the alleged theft -- which authorities maintain occurred over a 12-year period -- coincides with a time when Paul David Seeman was steadily climbing the judicial ladder.
The Alameda County District Attorney has also charged the 57-year-old judge with perjury for allegedly failing to report a $250,000 loan from the neighbor, Anne Nutting, on his state-required Statement of Economic Interest forms. Court documents further allege that Seeman had
Seeman pleaded not guilty Wednesday. He and his attorney have refused to comment on the allegations.
The story starts in December 1998 when Anne Nutting's husband Lee, 89, fell in their home. Anne, 86, called 911. Responding firefighters declared the home uninhabitable due to hoarding. The couple took up temporary residence at the Radisson Hotel at Berkeley Marina.
They had no children, other family or close friends.
Seeman lived across the street. According to court documents he offered to help the couple even though he didn't know them well and had never been inside their house. Within a month, he had obtained a durable power of attorney for husband and wife. This after he claimed that he had found $1 million in stock certificates and uncashed dividend checks in their house.
Lee Nutting died about a year later.
According to allegations laid out in court documents, Seeman systematically began selling off Anne Nutting's assets and diverting the proceeds to himself.
By 2004, he had complete control of the elderly woman's finances -- about $2.2 million in bank and investment accounts. He tried unsuccessfully to get her to sign over documents that would made him the beneficiary of her estate when she died and awarded him her home.
Seeman convinced the elderly woman to loan him $250,000 at 3 percent interest. Yet he only made eight interest payments.
In 2007, Nutting, who had been at the Radisson nine years, insisted on returning home. Yet Seeman tried to block her return.
Nutting got an attorney to revoke Seaman's durable power of attorney. Yet even then, he did not remove his name from her accounts.
Her attorney went to Berkeley police with his suspicions that Seeman was stealing from Nutting.
Seeman repaid the loan after Berkeley police contacted him but he refused to provide an accounting of the financial transactions he had made on Nutting's behalf.
Nutting died in April of 2010.
Since she cannot testify, the elder abuse case will rise or fall on the strength of prosecutors' financial documentation substantiating elder financial abuse charges.
Every criminal defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Yet it should be obvious that a judge cannot effectively serve while he is the subject of a criminal investigation.
Still, Seeman remains on the bench. By law, he cannot be forced from office unless he is impeached by the state Assembly, recalled by voters or removed by a state commission that has oversight over judges.
Since Seeman will not step down voluntarily, the Commission on Judicial Performance should seek to remove him from the bench pending the conclusion of his criminal case.
How can a judge who is himself facing felony charges sit in judgment of anyone else?
In another twist, a 53-year-old man named Ali Mehrizi is listed on the 97-year-old Nutting's death certificate as her husband.
Mehrizi, who Berkeley police say is not a suspect in the alleged elder theft, is the trustee of Nutting's estate. Which means the man 44 years her junior will likely inherit Nutting's worldly goods.