Trust And Estate Clients Targeted By
Penny S. DAVIS, 57, of Cary, North Carolina, was sentenced on January 12, 2018, by the Honorable Catherine C. Eagles, United States District Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina. DAVIS pled guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on May 17, 2017.
Court documents and the testimony of witnesses at the sentencing hearing reveal that DAVIS worked as a paralegal with an expertise in estate work. In this capacity, she worked at a Chapel Hill law firm on estate and guardianship cases. After resigning her position, a Durham law firm hired her to do similar work. DAVIS used her position at both firms to embezzle money from estates in probate in which the firms represented the executor of the estate. The court determined that DAVIS stole over $250,000 from multiple estates. This money was used by DAVIS in part to pay off bills she ran-up using credit cards belonging to the deceased whose estates were in probate or to disabled persons in guardianship. DAVIS used the funds to pay for trips to see Broadway shows and to keep horses among other things. In so doing, DAVIS illegally used the identifying information of the executor of one of the estates to carry out her scheme.
At the sentencing hearing, the District Court found that DAVIS targeted certain estates as being particularly vulnerable due to the absence of family members to oversee local probate proceedings. DAVIS also specifically targeted a retired North Carolina judge who had been rendered incompetent by dementia and age. DAVIS exploited the fact that her firm served as legal guardian for the retired judge to use a credit card in the judge’s name for her own benefit.
DAVIS also used sophisticated means to carry out and conceal her theft. Evidence at the sentencing hearing established that DAVIS used her extensive knowledge of the North Carolina probate system to falsify court documents to conceal her theft. DAVIS transferred money from estate to estate to cover her misappropriation of estate funds.
DAVIS successfully concealed her theft from both law firms despite the fact she worked for experienced trust and estate lawyers. In fact, the law firms did not discover her actions until after she had left the employ of the Durham law firm.
In addition to a 65-month term of imprisonment, Judge Eagles sentenced DAVIS to three years of supervised release and ordered her to pay $180,827.55 in restitution.
This case was investigated by the United States Department of Treasury Office of Inspector General Task Force and the Durham Police Department. Special Assistant United States Attorney Kennedy Gates and Assistant United States Attorney Frank Joseph Chut, Jr. prosecuted the case.