A Plymouth woman pleaded no contest Tuesday to scamming about $1.4 million from 11 elderly people in Huron and Richland counties.
Janet L. Jones, 58, of 226 W. Broadway St., was convicted in Huron County Common Pleas Court of attempted aggravated theft and tampering with evidence, both third-degree felonies. She faces one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 on each charge when she is sentenced after a restitution hearing that starts May 8.
The state, in a plea agreement, agreed to dismiss 48 other charges on which Jones had been indicted March 13, 2006. The Huron County indictment listed the original felony charges of aggravated theft, attempted theft and forgery plus false representation as an attorney, a first-degree misdemeanor.
Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler described it as "a very difficult case" because Richland County decided not to charge Jones and many of the victims were dead in cases that were 20 years old.
What made a conviction and plea deal possible, Leffler explained, was a "forensic accountant" determined that Jones used the money for her own benefit while one of the people in the guardianships was still alive.
In the scam, Jones used a business she created to perform legal work for people and then wrote herself into their wills, Rosemary Rupert, a prosecutor with the state attorney general's office, has said. Prosecutors estimate the Plymouth woman reportedly victimized 11 estates between 1989 and 2003.
Jones set up a post office box in an attorney's name, created authentic-looking documents, forged an attorney's signature and then filed those false documents in Huron and Richland county probate courts and recorder's and auditor's offices, court records show. Rupert has said the intent was to take guardianship of elderly people and exert control over their properties.
In one case, Jones reportedly filed monthly guardianship reports in Richland County Probate Court and stole property valued at more than $100,000 belonging to one woman.
Four of the victims are listed as being deprived of property and cash of more than $100,000 each. Two are listed as being deprived or defrauded of from $5,000 to $100,000. One widow was listed as being deprived of more than $25,000.
Jones does not have a law degree and is not a paralegal, Rupert said.
Assistant Prosecutor Richard Woodruff, in 2006, said he was unaware of other local criminal cases involving Jones.
Leffler said the plea deal means there will be no more state charges filed against Jones or her daughter, who "ended up" with some of the scam money, but Jones still could face federal charges. He estimated the amount of documentation in the case may have resulted in a two- to three-month trial.