Friday, May 4, 2007

Jail Term Ordered in Elder-Abuse Case

Ori-Published: May 1, 2007 By ALISHA WYMAN The Union Democrat

A man convicted of elder financial abuse must serve four months in jail, pay restitution and perform community service for his crime, a Tuolumne County judge ordered Monday.

Superior Court Judge Eric DuTemple said he took "grains of salt" from the defense and prosecution's arguments in making his decision on the severity of the sentence given former Pacific Grove police officer and Sonora resident Attila Horvath.

In February, Horvath was convicted of one count of felony financial abuse for taking more than $10,000 from an elderly man.

Horvath had Ross Anderson, now 98, write 12 blank checks totaling $12,275 between January and May 2006. Anderson lived with Horvath and his family for six years, until February 2006, when he was moved to Mark Twain Convalescent Hospital in San Andreas following a surgery.

Horvath filled the checks out, making them payable to him or his wife.

Allegations of financial abuse surfaced after a check to the convalescent hospital bounced.

The final check Horvath received from Anderson for $1,725 may have also bounced, so he never received that money, defense attorney Jim Webster said Monday.

The judge asked Webster to provide evidence of this before May 9, when Horvath will begin a four-month jail sentence. If it bounced, it will be subtracted from the restitution he owes, the judge said.

In addition to paying back the amount he took, Horvath was ordered to serve 300 hours of community service, attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings and be on probation for five years.

DuTemple denied Webster's requests to reconsider the case or for a new trial.

Before the sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Eric Hovatter asked the judge to consider the "egregious" aspects of the case in his decision.

Because Horvath was a police officer, he should be held to a higher standard, Hovatter said.

"A person who is in law enforcement should know better," he said.

His familiarity with the legal system would also would allow Horvath to better "cover his tracks" during the investigation, he said.

Hovatter also pointed out that Horvath had cared for elders for some time and must have known about their vulnerability.

The money Horvath took was for his own benefit, to "lavishly" remodel his home and to gamble, the prosecutor reiterated.

Webster countered that there was little evidence Anderson funded most of the renovations to Horvath's home and that they weren't lavish.

Horvath had no obligation to care for Anderson but did so anyway, Webster said.

When Anderson's health failed, Horvath took him to Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital in San Andreas.

"Attila Horvath saved his life," Webster said. "He got him to the hospital, He got him the surgery."

Anderson testified that he was grateful for Horvath's help, Webster pointed out.

Webster asked the judge to delay the jail sentence until Horvath could finish some medical tests on his heart, scheduled up until May 8.

The judge agreed that Horvath could report to jail May 9.

The judge's decision was fair, Hovatter said, following the hearing.

"I believe he spent a lot of time thinking about his sentence and I will go along with that," he said.

The ruling also was a victory for the Tuolumne County Ombudsman, an organization which works to safeguard the elderly living in care homes.

The Ombudsman had questioned Horvath about the checks when allegations of financial abuse arose.

"We just want people to know, if they mess with the elderly in the long-term care facilities, we'll get them," said Kathi Toepel, the organization's director.

Webster said he plans to appeal the case today.

"I think the judge was wrong in his interpretation of the facts in the case," the longtime defense attorney said.

Contact Alisha Wyman at or 588-4527.

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