Urge to play slots spurred thefts

Posted Sept. 24, 2008, at 11:34 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine – The prosecutor called it elder abuse. The defense attorney said it was the result of an illness. Members of Gamblers Anonymous warned the judge to expect more cases just like it.

Lucia Faria, 41, of Bangor was sentenced Wednesday in Penobscot County Superior Court to three years in prison for stealing more than $40,000 from elderly patients at the Bangor facility where she worked and gambling it away at Hollywood Slots.

Greg Campbell, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, said it was the most serious case related to gambling at Hollywood Slots since the facility opened on Main Street three years ago.

Faria, a Portuguese citizen in the United States legally, admitted stealing $43,700 from three victims — two of whom are over the age of 80 — and her employer over a 15-month period in 2006 and 2007. She pleaded guilty on Sept. 2 to forgery and theft charges after being indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury in April. She also pleaded guilty for failing to appear in court in May.

Faria had no criminal record.

She faced up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000 and could have been ordered to pay restitution.

Faria took checks from three patients at The Country Villa, an assisted living facility on Kenduskeag Avenue, where she worked as a housekeeper. She forged them to get money for the slot machines. She also borrowed money from patients and her employer on the pretext that she needed it to return to Portugal to care for a sick brother.

“This is a classic case of elder abuse,” Campbell told the court. “These are reprehensible crimes against our most vulnerable citizens. This was a tremendous breach of trust in which she bilked senior citizens out of a substantial amount of their life savings.”

Defense attorney Kirk Bloomer of Bangor said that Faria’s crimes were a result of her addiction to gambling. He said that she had banned herself from Hollywood Slots before she was indicted, had sought treatment for the disease and regularly attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

“She didn’t appear in court as she should have,” Bloomer said, “but she returned from Portugal to deal with this, knowing she probably would be arrested in Boston. The easy thing to do would have been to stay in Portugal. It was the guilt, quite frankly, that made her come back. She couldn’t live with it.”

A man who identified himself only as Fred said he was a member of Faria’s Gamblers Anonymous group. He urged the judge to allow her to repay her victims as part of her recovery.

“I’ve never seen any one person help as many people [in recovery] as Lucy did,” he said, before making a prediction.

“On account of that big, wonderful building down by the river, you’re going to have a lot of people show up here,” he said. “Lucy is not going to be the only one.”

Even though she is married to a 95-year-old man who lives out of state, Faria is expected to be deported after completing her sentence, Campbell said.

The prosecutor said after the sentencing that Faria banned herself from Hollywood Slots and sought out Gamblers Anonymous the day after police interviewed her about the thefts.

In imposing the sentence, Superior Court Justice William Anderson did not require that she pay restitution, and he didn’t impose probation. He said that because of her impending deportation, it was highly unlikely she would be able to repay her victims and that the state has no ability to collect restitution from her once she leaves the country.

“Usually I hear that drugs or alcohol made me do it,” Anderson said. “I don’t really think that gambling is a huge excuse. I’m sentencing [Faria] to three years with none of it suspended. I’m also taking into consideration the fact that this was not a crime of violence, there’s limited space in our prisons and this was a property crime, although a very serious property crime.”

Violent crimes are dealt with more severely than thefts of property under Maine law.

Campbell recommended that Faria be sentenced to six years in prison due to the amount of money involved and the age of her victims. Bloomer urged that she be sentenced to two or three years in prison with all but the three months she’s been at the Penobscot County Jail suspended and two years of probation.

Faria has been held without bail since she returned from Portugal in July.

Hollywood Slots maintains a self-exclusion list for patrons who believe they have a gambling problem, and the state maintains a toll-free problem gambling hot line.

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