Carson woman admits stealing from adopted mom
Since 1999, Sami Donovan has professed her innocence to charges of elderly exploitation.
On Wednesday, standing in jailhouse greens, her hands shackled to a chain around her waist, she admitted her guilt.
“I believe it was because I was under the stress of gambling and such,” Donovan, 51, told Carson City District Judge Michael Griffin as she pleaded guilty to exploiting Glenell Westphal and — using her standing as Westphal’s caretaker and adopted daughter — bilked thousands of dollars in cash and property from the 77-year-old woman.
Donovan also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of theft stemming from a 2002 arrest in an Internet auction scam over a recreational vehicle.
“After three years of financial difficulties in our home, I sold my motor home and it never was delivered,” she admitted.
Now, Donovan is facing 30 years in prison. She remains in Carson City jail on a $50,000 bail awaiting sentencing April 8.
Her victims welcomed the guilty plea.
“They got her,” Westphal said Wednesday, sitting in her wheelchair.
“Justice has been served,” said Bill Winans of Minnesota, who lost money in an Internet scam.
For nearly three years, because of a 1998 adoption where Westphal made Donovan her daughter, there was a question about whether she would ever spend time in prison for leaving Westphal destitute and on Medicaid in a nursing home.
Donovan began working for Westphal in December 1996 through a home-care company called Fallon Cares.
She was paid $1,000 a week, plus room and board, and moved into Westphal’s Valleyview home.
Within months, Fallon Cares was no longer serving Westphal, but Donovan had stayed on and her wages were $2,500 a week.
By 1998, Donovan who was then 46, was adopted by Westphal.
Westphal openly admits adopting Donovan.
“I’ve always wanted a daughter to go along with my son and she was an orphan lady and we got along so well,” Westphal told the jury in the first trial, which ended in a mistrial. “(Sami) knew very well that it was my wishes that she receive my home and most of the furniture that was in it. But I thought she was going to be patient and wait until I left this planet.”
As time went on, there was a steady erosion of Westphal’s finances. Estimates of how much money Westphal actually lost range from $146,000 into the millions.
A will was recorded in 1998 leaving all of Westphal’s assets to Donovan, and in May 1999 a “signing session” took place in which a number of documents were signed including a revocation of trust, a power of attorney giving Donovan control and access to all of Westphal’s finances, as well as control over Westphal’s health care
Donovan then acquired two loans on the Valleyview home of $65,000 and $95,000.
In October 1999, Donovan enrolled Westphal in a hospice program at St. Mary’s. The hospice is for people who were terminally ill with six months or less to live.
A doctor at the hospice program discharged Westphal because she did not belong there.
By mid-October 1999, Donovan had placed an ad seeking to hire a home care provider.
Carrie Nelson testified she answered the ad and became suspicious about the amount of medication Westphal was taking. She had discovered numerous morphine patches stuck to Westphal’s back.
Nelson reported Donovan, who was arrested Dec. 12, 1999.
Glenell Westphal believed Donovan was after her money.
But to a jury, the fact that Westphal adopted Donovan may have made a guilty verdict difficult to come by, said District Attorney Noel Waters.
Then, in November 2001, Winans found himself being ripped off through the Internet auction.
An investigation by the Carson City Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office uncovered at least four victims across the nation who claimed to have paid Donovan large sums of money for various items they never received.
She was arrested on the new charges Jan. 10. Her bail in the Westphal case was revoked.
Waters was ready to go forward with a trial on both cases when Donovan accepted the plea agreement.
She would plead guilty to the exploitation charge, a theft charge and give up all rights to Westphal’s home and inheritance. In exchange, the DA’s office would drop the abuse charge and another theft charge from the Internet auction case.
Donovan’s attorney, Mike Roth, asked Griffin on Wednesday to reduce his client’s bail while she awaited sentencing so she could get a job and make efforts to pay back Westphal.
“She is truly sorry for her relationship with Ms. Westphal,” Roth said.
Griffin replied, “She’s a danger to society.”
Winans, who heard a series of excuses — from a fiery crash that killed her husband, Gary, to anthrax scares at the post office — was philosophical over the money he lost in the bogus Internet auction.
“I think everything happens for a reason. Maybe fate brought it my way so Sami could be stopped,” he said. “I am glad I was able to help bring this person to justice.”