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Ruling could dismiss Auburn woman’s $500,000-plus elder theft charges

D'Arsi Champlin’s attorney: insufficient evidence for her to face trial
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Key dates

Auburn Realtor Mark Champlin and his wife D’Arsi are facing a total of 14 felony counts related to allegations of stealing about a half million dollars from Mark’s 86-year-old mother.

Below is a timeline of events leading to today’s court hearing on a motion filed by D’Arsi’s attorney to have the charges against her dismissed, seeking to overturn a ruling that bound her over for trial on all counts.

2006: Mark Champlin becomes a signatory on his mother’s bank account to pay for her bills and take care of her finances. He had his own debit card for the account.

January 2007: D’Arsi Champlin begins working for Mark’s real estate business.

Aug. 29, 2007: First recorded date that Mark allegedly stole from his mother.

September 2007: D’Arsi starts paying the $1,600 mortgage for her home at 11519 Stonebrook Court using a bank account funded 90 percent by checks or transfers from either Mark’s bank account, or cash deposits or cashiers checks.

March 10, 2008: D’Arsi and Mark get married, and D’Arsi stops working for his real estate business.

April 27, 2010: D’Arsi signs waiver form as part of Mark’s bankruptcy petition.

Dec. 1, 2011: Det. Keith Batt, of Pleasanton Police Department, interviews Mark’s mother.

Dec. 15, 2011: Batt interviews Champlin to discuss his mother’s bank account. D’Arsi sat in during the interview.

February 2012: Documents related to the Stonebrook residence show that D’Arsi received a $130,000 loan brokered by Mark, taken out after the interview with Batt. In the loan documentation, D’Arsi declared Mark’s taxable wages for 2011 totaled $7,000. In 2011, Mark paid $25,000 to D’Arsi which she then paid to the mortgage.

Sept. 12, 2012: Placer County deputies arrested the Champlins on an out-of-county warrant from Pleasanton, and they were transferred to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

Oct. 26, 2012: The Champlins plead not guilty to a total of 13 felony counts related to grand theft of personal property and theft from an elder or dependent. That includes an additional charge against D’Arsi for allegedly receiving stolen property. Later, another grand theft charge was added against D’Arsi.

Today: Hearing in Hayward Hall of Justice is scheduled for a ruling on the motion to set aside information by D’Arsi’s attorney, which if granted would dismiss the charges against her.

 

Source: Motion papers filed by defense attorney Dan Roth; opposition papers filed by Alameda County District Attorney’s office

Mark and D’Arsi Champlin. Man and wife. Partners in crime?

Today, an Alameda County judge is scheduled to decide whether there’s enough evidence to hold D’Arsi to face charges that she participated with Mark in the alleged theft of nearly a half-million dollars from his 86-year-old mother.

At the forefront of the allegations surrounding D’Arsi is a home she owns at 11519 Stonebrook Court in Auburn, which Mark had been helping her pay the mortgage on beginning in 2007, around the same time he purportedly began taking unauthorized funds from his mother’s account.

Dan Roth, a Berkley-based attorney representing D’Arsi, filed a motion to have information set aside which, if granted today, could dismiss all or some of the charges she is facing.

Connie Campbell, Alameda County deputy district attorney, said she would re-file charges if they are dismissed, meaning D’Arsi would not be released from Santa Rita Jail, where she has been held on $655,000 bail for the past three months, and the trial against her would essentially just be delayed.

Roth did not respond to messages seeking comment on the motion.

If the magistrate’s decision to hold her over to face charges is upheld, her trial along with her husband’s – who is representing himself – will likely begin sometime early next year.

Mark, 61, and D’Arsi Champlin, 48, are facing six felony counts of grand theft of personal property totaling about $487,000 and six corresponding felony counts of theft from an elder or dependent.

D’Arsi is additionally charged with grand theft of personal property totaling $130,000 between Dec. 15, 2011 and April 1, as well as receiving stolen property.

They pleaded not guilty to all counts.

In his motion papers, Roth argues that D’Arsi was held to answer on the charges without reasonable or probable cause shown by evidence presented in the preliminary examination.

“Instead,” Roth wrote in his motion, “they showed that D’Arsi Champlin was married to Mark Champlin during most of the time he allegedly stole (his mother’s) money, and that, as spouses do every day, Mark Champlin gave his wife money – at most $69,450 over a 5-year period – to help pay the mortgage on the home in which they lived.”

Campbell said that not all evidence against D’Arsi had been presented in the preliminary examination because it wasn’t relevant to the probable cause determination.

“I didn’t put on testimony that I have that D’Arsi Champlin and Mark Champlin would often say to the children, ‘Grandma (name withheld) bought us this new television, grandma bought us a new washer and dryer, grandma paid for the new floors in the house,’” Campbell said, with “grandma” referring to Mark’s mother whose name is being withheld due to the Journal’s policy to not release names of victims. “So there’s more evidence of D’Arsi’s knowledge.”

Roth’s motion describes Mark as D’Arsi’s “now-estranged husband.” Interview requests for Mark, who is being held on $830,000 bail at Santa Rita Jail, made through the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office have not been returned. A request to interview D’Arsi has been denied.

Roth argues that the prosecution’s evidence shows Mark, not D’Arsi, took all of his mother’s money; D’Arsi had no reason to know the money Mark gave her was stolen, and there’s no evidence that it was; and that her 2012 refinancing of her home doesn’t constitute taking someone else’s property nor receiving stolen property.

Campbell said in her opposition that “abundant, uncontroverted evidence” had been presented to support D’Arsi being held to answer on all charges.

She painted a picture of a D’Arsi as a “very financially savvy woman,” who received hundreds of thousands of dollars from her husband, who she knew was bankrupt amid the crashing housing market in which he built his career.

“The charges stem from the defendant and her husband conspiring to deplete the life savings of the defendant’s mother-in-law in order to maintain their lifestyle despite the collapse of the real estate market from 2007 through 2012,” she wrote in her response to Roth’s motion.

The defense also said the information should be set aside because the prosecution “failed to disclose” information that would clear D’Arsi in advance of the preliminary examination.

Campbell said the defense made no record at the preliminary hearing of this denial of right of cross examination, therefore it may not be addressed in this motion. She also wrote the claim was “spurious at best.”

 

‘Times were tough’

Mark’s eldest brother, Virgil Champlin, told Pleasanton Police Department Det. Keith Batt in November 2011 that his mother’s bank account balance was about $10, and it was “functionally negative” by about $1,000, as the check to her residential care facility had been short by that amount, according to the DA.

Virgil and two other siblings covered the difference, so she could maintain her current level of care. Their mother lives on a fixed monthly income of a little less than $3,000, and her room and board alone costs $3,800 per month, according to court records.

When Batt interviewed Mark’s mother on Dec. 1, she told him Mark had been able to sign on her account “for the sole purpose of paying (her) bills,” according to the DA’s report.

The record shows that he had been added to her account in 2006. D’Arsi does not have any power over that account, according to the record.

“The victim indicated she had significant savings supplemented by the previous sale of her home,” according to the record. “She believed she had funds to cover all her expenses for a period of years. She also intended to leave money behind to all her children.

“She expressed her sadness that Mark had spent all the money, leaving nothing for anyone else.”

Batt testified the only time Mark’s mother mentioned D’Arsi during their interview was when she commented on D’Arsi’s wedding ring, surmising Mark bought it with money he stole from her. 

Batt interviewed Mark two weeks later to discuss his mother’s bank account, and D’Arsi chose to sit in on the questioning, though she was not a suspect at the time, according to the record.

According to the DA’s report of the testimony, Batt said D’Arsi did not say anything when he accused Mark of taking his mother’s money, however Roth wrote that Batt testified she “expressed shock” when hearing Batt’s allegation, at that time, that Mark stole $300,000.

“Times were tough,” Mark told Batt in response to a question about his finances, “the market’s hard, (he was) not making a lot of money or closing any deals.”

Records from the California Department of Real Estate showed Mark as working with MAC Real Estate Services since 1995.

He told the detective he received a $100,000 loan from his mother to buy a home, but he didn’t purchase it and kept the money, according to the DA’s report. Mark told Batt he had his mother’s permission to “spend as he needed” because times were tough, but in the end Mark “agreed that he was spending what he wanted, not what he needed.”

 

Businesswoman, bookkeeper

D’Arsi has a bachelor’s degree in business from Fresno State, with experience in personal banking and loan processing, according to the DA’s report. She worked in the banking industry from about 1988 to 1996, and she continued doing loans by phone from home after the birth of her child.

Mark paid D’Arsi about $1,500 a month to work for his real estate business from January 2007 until they married in March 2008.

D’Arsi’s ex-husband Victor Kovaly testified that, when they were married, D’Arsi had “handled all the household finances, paid all the bills,” as well as did the bookkeeping and finances for Kovaly’s business. Kovaly also said she meticulously kept receipts.

The Champlins, married in March 2008, had separate bank accounts and Mark’s statements went to his business on Grass Valley Highway in Auburn, not to their Auburn home on Stonebrook Court, according to the defense’s motion papers.

In the motion to clear D’Arsi, it alleges “The Chief Investigator himself concluded that no one but Mark Champlin spent or withdrew the unauthorized funds from (his mother’s) account.” However, the DA responded that what Batt actually stated, in response to a question about a Dec. 21, 2011 report, that “in this report, he did not conclude that anyone else spent the money.”

The record reflects how much was spent from a card issued to Mark, not necessarily who used the card during that five-year span, the DA contested.

In early August 2007, D’Arsi had been paying the mortgage on the Stonebrook residence from her Placer Sierra bank account, and after the first alleged theft on Aug. 29, records show beginning September 2007 D’Arsi switched to using her Wells Fargo account to pay the mortgage.

Deposits into that account had consisted 50 percent of either transfers or checks from Mark’s Wells Fargo account (totaling $54,450), 40 percent cash deposits or cashier’s checks ($43,400), with the remaining 10 percent being child support or other sources ($10,924.13), according to the DA’s report of the forensic audit.

From 2007-11, 87 percent of the funds from the account went toward the Stonebrook mortgage.

 

Numbers game

Despite Mark’s claim that times were tough, the Champlins showed no signs of slowing their spending habits, according to the DA’s report, with family vacations to Hawaii, Canada, Mexico and Tahoe several times, and they regularly had a house cleaner and someone detail their cars, according to testimony from Kovaly.

Of the alleged stolen total of $487,043.85, $118,791 was spent on children’s school and/or church; $71,163.38 on “travel, entertainment, dining, gym, pet, salon, and spa” items; and $36,823 on clothing, according to Roth’s report. That leaves $260,266.47 unauthorized funds Mark had possessed or spent at some time, it said.

During the same time Mark is alleged to have been stealing from his mother, his account also received $634,721.26 in “non-theft” deposits, according to the report of testimony from a forensic expert.

“He gave D’Arsi at most $69,450 towards her mortgage from that same bank account,” Roth wrote. “Taken together, this evidence negates any possible inference that D’Arsi would have known that the source of these funds was illegitimate.”

However, she declared on tax documents Mark’s 2011 taxable income to be $7,000 – that’s during the same year he gave her more than $25,000, which she then used to pay her mortgage, according to the DA’s report.

In 2010, she signed a waiver form as part of Mark's bankruptcy petition, the DA’s report said, and in that following year with assistance from Mark, she spent an extra $500 per month on her mortgage to pay it down.

“This math does not add up,” Campbell wrote. “But the reasonable inferences do add up. The sum of the reasonable inferences leads to the indisputable fact that Darsi (sic) and Mark are living off stolen money.”

D’Arsi received a $130,000 loan related to the Stonebrook residence brokered by Mark after she sat in on the interview where Batt accused him of stealing, according to the DA. The defense’s motion said this was related to a February 2012 refinancing of the home.

 “The day Detective Batt arrested the defendant, he asked her if, she ‘had a problem taking a hundred thirty thousand dollar loan against a home whose equity was gained by stolen money, paid for with stolen money?’” according to the DA’s opposition. “She replied, ‘Well, some of it.’

“Detective Batt inferred this to mean some of the equity was with stolen money, since D’Arsi was present the month before when Detective Batt accused Mark of stealing over $300,000 from (his mother).”

The grand theft charge of $130,000 is based on that 2012 refinancing of her home that she has owned since 2002, but there is no “reasonable basis” to believe that constituted a theft, Roth wrote.

“A refinance, which by definition involves value that is already in a home, is not a taking from a third party, and in this case was not a taking from (Mark’s mother),” he wrote.

The refinancing extended the 20-year mortgage 10 more years, Roth wrote.

When Batt discussed using funds stolen from Mark’s mother to pay the mortgage, D’Arsi “volunteered” that, “We paid it down,” according to the DA’s report.

“We. Darsi (sic) and Mark,” Campbell wrote, “partners in crime.”

This afternoon at the Hayward Hall of Justice, it will be determined if enough evidence supporting that allegation has been presented and whether D’Arsi will be held over to face those charges.

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews