Richard Bennett accused of bilking elderly Harborite’s life savings

Man accused of bilking elderly Harborite’s life savings

BY POLLY SEARS

MONTESANO — Richard Bennett befriended an elderly Aberdeen man during one of the worst times of the man’s life, then bilked him of almost his entire life savings, prosecutors say.Testimony began Wednesday in Grays Harbor Superior Court  in the trial of the 53-year-old Central Park man, charged with one count of
first-degree theft by deception.Prosecutors allege that in 1996, Bennett  stole nearly $100,000 from 78-year-old John Boyd, a retired mill worker and Daily World paper carrier.
Yesterday, a jury of nine women and four  men (including one alternate) heard the prosecution’s opening statement and testimony from Boyd and seven other prosecution witmesses.Bennett’s attorney, Don McConnell of Olympia, did not immediately present an opening statement.But he did lodge a number of objections during testimony. On
cross-examination, he accused one witness of being “biased” and suggested that Boyd, whose memory is clearly deteriorating, is possibly being led by a prosecution determined to convict his client.At one point, McConnell asked Boyd, who entered the courtroom in a wheelchair, if he remembered anything other than “what the prosecution told you.” Boyd gave conflicting answers.This isn’t the first time that Bennett, who once owned and operated the Mailbox and More in downtown Aberdeen, has faced criminal charges. Almost three years ago, he was found not guilty of defrauding customers of the mail service business.

In 1986, Bennett made headlines in Pierce County when he was accused of impersonating an attorney and operating a bogus legal referral service. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Judge Mark McCauley is presiding over the current trial, which is expected to last through Friday.

In a 10-minute opening statement, Deputy Prosecutor Jason Richards told the jury that Boyd had built up a substantial retirement fund, around $140,000, while working in the mills on Grays Harbor. He’d taken up his paper route after his retirement.

Boyd’s wife, Gladys, handled the couple’s finances, Richards said. When she died in 1995 after 33 years of marriage, Boyd was “distraught. He was devastated,” Richards told the jury. Boyd turned to Bennett, whom he had met through his paper route a few years before.

“The defendant at this time started to become Mr. Boyd’s friend,” Richards said. “He took him to dinner, he bought him clothes and he talked about investments.”
He also defrauded him, according to the deputy prosecutor.

Richards promised the testimony from a total of 17 witnesses would piece together a scheme, in which Bennett tricked Boyd into draining nearly $100,000 from an annuity account that, ironically, had been set up by Seafirst Bank to prevent Boyd from becoming a victim.

Bennett, Richards alleged, used the money to set up separate savings and checking accounts at a Heritage Bank branch in West Olympia in May 1996. Bennett opened the two accounts in the name of his ex-wife, Shelley Masters of Aberdeen, according to prosecutors.

Masters testified that she had little involvement in setting up the account. Bennett had asked her to put them in her name and she agreed. “He did all the talking, and I just signed my name,” she told the jury.

Heritage Bank employees testified to the same. A few weeks after the new accounts were set up, Bennett took Boyd to the same bank and had him sit on a couch in the lobby while he deposited one $58,000 check that Boyd had signed, according to prosecutors and testimony.

Over strong objections from McConnell, two bank employees testified that Boyd did not seem lucid at the time. One testified that she was concerned that Boyd was “either very incognizant or senile.”

Over the next two months, both new accounts had been drained, according to Richards, who said that Masters had signed off on a total of 38 checks, 13 of them for cash, and gave all the money to Bennett.

In a check-by-check review with Deputy Prosecutor Josh Quentzel, Masters told the jury why each was written. Purchases, she testified, included insurance for Bennett’s car, a radar detector and a new bed for their daughter.

Checks were also written, she said, to pay for $5,000 in maintenance on Bennett’s white Mercedes Benz and around $4,000 in credit card bills. Asked each time why she cashed each check, Masters answered, “Because he asked me to.” The defendant’s ex-wife also testified that she did not receive any of the money, other than “in a roundabout way, if we went out to dinner or something.”

McConnell was scheduled to begin cross-examination of Masters when the trial resumed this morning.

richard-wayne-bennett-harborite-accused-of-bilking-elderly-man-of-his-life-savings-february-19-1998

This article was originally featured on the front page of
The Daily World, Thursday, February 19, 1998.
 
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