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The U.S. Justice Department announced on Wednesday that sentencing took place in Anchorage Federal Court in the case of an Anchorage woman who defrauded an elderly woman suffering from dementia out of over $70,000.
53-year-old Susanna DiFranco, of Anchorage, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess to one year in prison, followed by six months in a halfway house. Judge Burgess noted during sentencing, that DeFranco had a “dark side,” and a poor track record, as she was the subject of two previous protective orders after she had defrauded her elderly parents.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward, “Difranco obtained financial information of
an elderly woman, who is a widow and has dementia, and used that information to get online access to the
victim’s bank account and obtain a debit card on the victim’s bank account. Difranco also changed the
address of the victim’s mail to her own so she would receive all of the victim’s mail.” It was through this deception that DeFranco, a former elementary teacher at Sand Lake Elementary in Anchorage, was able to steal $70,000 from the elderly victim in just a month’s time.
DiFranco initially took control of the victim’s bank account by telling the bank that it was necessary in order to assist the victim with her taxes. She was able to acquire a debit card for the account by misleading the bank and allowing them to think she was the victim’s daughter.
DiFranco immediately began making maximum allowable withdrawals from the victim’s account and also began making purchases from the account for personal items.
When the victim’s bank questioned DiFranco about the withdrawals from the victim’s account, DiFranco, in turn, presented the bank with a notorized statement stating that she was placing the money into a safe deposit box on behalf of the victim, who was only identified with the initials R.R. She stated in the notorized document that this was necessary in order to prevent someone else from stealing her money.
In truth, DiFranco used the purloined funds to pay her own credit card bill, shop online, and book a trip to Las Vegas, pay her daughter’s colege tuition, as well as other purchases.
The deception and theft did not come to light until the victim went to the bank to draw out funds for a trip to her home country of Japan and realized her bank balance was much lower than it should have been. That is when the victim’s bank, Alaska USA, began an investigation into the account and its activities. During the investigation, the elderly 77-year-old woman denied that DiFranco had any authorization to access her account.
When questioned by authorities, DiFranco told investigators that the money had been placed in a safe deposit box and that the checks issued were donations and a loan to her from the victim. But, the victim denied ever authorizing a loan to DiFranco.
DiFranco was originally charged with three counts of fraud and one count of identity theft. In an October plea agreement, DiFranco pleaded guilty to wire and access device fraud and other charges were dismissed.
DiFranco’s sentence is a far cry from what she could have received. DiFranco could have been sentenced to 20 years behind bars and a $250.000 fine if convicted on the initial charges.