Woman Steals Funds Meant for Mesothelioma Patients
A woman from Arnold, Maryland who worked for a large Annapolis law firm has been sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay back $1.1 million to her victims after she pleaded guilty to stealing from a fund designated to benefit those sickened by asbestos exposure.
Devonne Evans pleaded guilty to theft and forgery charges earlier this year, and yesterday the 53-year-old law office employee received her sentence, which was related to a nine-year scheme to steal money from mesothelioma victims and their families.
In 2002, three years after she was hired by the firm, Evans was charged with the task of overseeing an account that included settlement money for the plaintiffs. Her theft from the funds began in 2009.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams revealed that Evans was diverting funds into her account from checks that hadn’t been cashed and forging client signatures on documents.
By all reports, she began living a “lavish lifestyle”, said Adams, including making huge purchases at upscale department stores, buying fancy cars, and taking expensive trips.
The law office for whom Evans worked reported that money was stolen from as many as 167 clients between 2009 and 2016. The attorney in charge of the practice didn’t realize what was happening until he returned unexpectedly to his office one weekend and found a check from the asbestos victims’ fund made out to Evans.
It prompted him to then spend the next year-and-a-half reviewing some 20,000 checks…and what he found disgusted him.
“She targeted the sickest (and) the most confused of my clients,” said the attorney, who has since reimbursed the fund with his own money.
Sadly, however, many who were entitled to money before the scheme was revealed went without. An article in the Capital Gazette mentions the plight of Barbara Ditch, whose husband died of mesothelioma in 2011.
She should have received about $166,000 in funds but never got any of it. Instead, she was forced to work three jobs to make ends meet and eventually had to move in with her children.
“I cannot return to the independent life I had to give up,” Barbara Ditch wrote in a victim impact statement read at the plea hearing.