Pico Rivera man admits stealing great-aunt’s life savings

EAST LOS ANGELES — A Pico Rivera man pleaded guilty Friday to stealing his great aunt’s life savings of $180,000 while he was in charge of her finances, officials said.
Sammy Acosta Jr., 43, pleaded guilty to a count of stealing from an elderly or dependent adult at a scheduled preliminary hearing setting in East Los Angeles Superior Court, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and court officials said.
He was immediately sentenced to 96 days in jail, which he had already served pending trial, along with 30 days of community service and five years formal probation, sheriff’s Detective Christopher Derry said.
He was also ordered to pay restitution to his great aunt for the amount she had not yet recovered, which was slightly more than $115,000, court officials said. About $60,000 were previously recovered by the victim through a civil suit in 2011.
Derry said the victim of the massive theft was not a wealthy person, but had saved the money through a lifetime of hard work and thrift.
“She worked as a retail clerk her whole life,” Derry said. “She didn’t make a lot of money. But she was frugal.”
The woman wanted to make sure she had resources to take care of herself in her old age, a value instilled in her from her father, the detective said.
She gave Acosta power of attorney after she suffered a stroke and spent a month in the hospital in 2009, officials said. He was supposed to pay her bills and look over her financial affairs.
But instead, according to investigators, Acosta withdrew the his great-aunt’s life savings of $180,000 over an eight-month period in 2009 and 2010. He used it for things including vacations, auto insurance and purchases from retail outlets.
The aunt discovered her bank accounts had been drained in July of 2010 and filed a lawsuit against Acosta to get it back, officials said.
Authorities alleged he used $17,000 of his great-aunt’s money to hire an attorney to defend himself in the case, which he ultimately lost.
In addition to the financial loss associated with the crime, it affected the entire family, the detective said.
“It caused a big rift, of course,” he said. “It’s a terrible betrayal.”
Sheriff’s deputies arrested and Acosta in December.

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