Several area residents at Plymouth resident Janet L. Jones' sentencing hearing described the convicted scammer as someone who made helping other people a priority.
Visiting Common Pleas Judge Richard Markus said he respects that Jones was very helpful to people in need, but she ultimately took advantage of many victims. She was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for scamming area elderly people.
Jones attempted to defraud an older woman of "the bulk of her estate," or more than $100,000, without her consent, Markus said. She tampered with records by filing a last will and testament as well as other documents with the Richland County Auditor's office "knowing those writings were false," the judge said while reading court documents.
Defense attorney Bernard Davis said there is "another side to Jones," a person who has provided assistance to the sick and elderly "and to those who had no money." He said his client currently is taking care of her brother, a stroke victim.
"The bottom line is ... she's a nurturing caretaker," Davis said. "There is no good reason to incarcerate Mrs. Jones."
On March 13, Jones, 58, of 226 W. Broadway St., pleaded no contest to one count each of attempted aggravated theft and tampering with records. Markus said prosecutors agreed to "remain silent at the time of sentencing" and dismissed 35 other charges as part of the plea deal.
Eleven individuals and "at least four government entities" were listed as victims in the original 37-count indictment filed March 13, 2006, Markus said. Jones was indicted on allegations she created a business to perform legal work for people and then wrote herself into their wills between 1989 and 2003.
Prosecutors had accused Jones of scamming $1.4 million from the Huron and Richland county victims.
"When I learned of these charges, I was shocked," said Chris Zografides, a Northwest Ohio defense attorney who works in the same law firm as Jones' daughter.
"This was not the Mrs. Jones I know," he said. "She is not akin to criminal behavior."
Zografides described Jones as someone who isn't deceitful, but is outgoing and generous. She made baked goods for his law firm and invited his co-workers to her home after getting to know Zografides.
"I don't see how she could survive in prison. I think of her as my mother," he said.
Janette Albert, of Shelby, painted a different picture of Jones. She was disappointed the state had dismissed 35 charges against Jones, adding that the crowd of about 24 people were in court "for all the wrong she has done."
"There's another side to her. There's a criminal side," Albert said.
Mansfield resident David Binning said Jones' "only concern" at one point was to care for her mother "in her last years."
He stressed that helping the less fortunate was priority for Jones. Binning shared a story of how Jones, while shopping, gave money to a mother who couldn't afford what was in her shopping cart.
Jones declined to speak on her own behalf during Friday's hearing.
"I did not commit a crime," she told the adult parole authority, according to a document read by Markus. After the presentence interview, the adult parole authority recommended Jones be sentenced to prison.
"I will not consider (early release) at all until I see some genuine remorse," Markus said.
Regarding restitution in the case, Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said 17.75 percent of the sale of various property would go through the Huron County Clerk of Courts to be dispersed to the victims. He noted the amount would not exceed $400,000.
"All of this is subject to the decision of the probate courts," Leffler added. Attorneys made a written agreement on restitution during a May 8 hearing.
Markus declined to impose any fines because of the "substantial" amount of restitution.