Defendant's tears don't sway judge's decision to convict

November 16, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD


Tears shed on the witness stand Tuesday by Phillip Mark Shafer, seemingly over concern for his grandmother, didn't sell a Washington County Circuit judge during a hearing to establish whether Shafer bilked the former schoolteacher between October 2003 and September 2004.

In the second day of a bench trial continued from last week, Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III found Shafer guilty of felony theft, but acquitted him of a financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult charge.

Shafer was accused of depleting the 92-year-old woman's bank account while she was in his care.

"It's not necessary to find how it was done ... he just outright took it for his own benefit," Wright said.


Shafer, 43, of 15121 Spring Dell Road in Williamsport, was sentenced to 15 years in state prison, the maximum sentence for a felony theft conviction.

"This was a systematic scheme of Phillip Shafer to steal from his grandmother, Harriet Shafer," Wright said.

Wright summarized, month by month, the activity on a bank account that was in the names of Shafer and his grandmother.

His grandmother's deposits in the account - payments for Social Security, a teacher's pension and retirement - were the same each month, but Shafer never deposited any money, Wright said.

Instead, Shafer wrote numerous checks to himself to cash, and there were other suspicious withdrawals, Wright said. Wright said Shafer noted an $800 check to himself in March 2004 was for a mortgage payment on his grandmother's 236 Daycotah Ave. home, but pointed out that "the mortgage company wasn't getting money since April 2003."

Wright said several "efforts" to write checks for Shafer's grandmother's benefit were unsuccessful, in that a majority were returned for insufficient funds. Checks Shafer wrote to himself for cash, Wright said, never bounced.

He said Shafer argued with a Department of Social Services Adult Protective Services social worker on Oct. 16, 2003, about his grandmother's groceries, saying he was her power of attorney and could make decisions about her food. He pointed out that Shafer became his grandmother's power of attorney Oct. 17.

Shafer testified that he took his grandmother, whom he called "Granny," to a doctor in February 2003 to get her help.

"He said she was no longer able to live unassisted," Shafer testified through sobs. "She was suffering from self-neglect."

Shafer's sister, Deborah Shultz, who is now her grandmother's power of attorney, said Harriet Shafer is living in a nursing home near Harrisburg, Pa.

"Our grandmother worked hard all her life ... She cared for him," Shultz said. "In return for all she did, Mark bilked her ... He left her penniless without a roof over her head."

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