Arrest in King County after elderly woman is bilked of $1 million
King County prosecutors have filed 54 criminal charges against Brenda Nicholas, most in connection to her alleged theft of more than $1 million from an elderly Seattle woman. Nicholas, 46, and two co-defendants have also been charged for allegedly duping three Seattle-area landlords, then failing to pay rent and stealing pricey items from the rental residences.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Brenda Nicholas, a 46-year-old woman who prosecutors say is involved in a loosely organized crime group, was charged Monday in King County Superior Court with more than 50 criminal counts, most connected to her alleged bilking of an elderly Seattle woman out of $1 million.
Nicholas, who was arrested Monday by U.S. marshals on a Seattle Police Department warrant, also was charged along with two co-defendants in an alleged scheme in which she is accused of failing to pay rent, then stealing pricey items belonging to three different landlords when she vacated the rental residences, according to a 26-page charging document outlining four separate police investigations into her alleged crimes.
Nicholas, who is under community supervision by the state Department of Corrections for a grand-theft conviction in California, has been charged with 52 counts of first-degree theft, one count of second-degree theft and one count of first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, according to charging documents. Also wanted in New York on an outstanding warrant for second-degree burglary, Nicholas is being held in the King County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.
In addition to the theft charges, King County prosecutors have filed an "aggravator," accusing Nicholas of committing theft by deception against a particularly vulnerable victim. Should she be convicted as charged, Nicholas could face a standard sentence of 3 ½ to 4 ¾ years in prison.
However, the aggravator gives prosecutors a basis to seek an exceptional sentence — in this case, up to a 10-year prison sentence, the maximum allowed for a Class B felony — said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
Also charged in the case involving the landlords are Gilda Ramirez, 49, and Charles Jungbluth, 50, according to charging documents.
Ramirez, who was booked into the King County Jail on Monday and is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail, has been charged with first-degree theft and trafficking in stolen property, according to jail and court records. Court documents show that Ramirez and Nicholas were living at the same Lynnwood address at the time of their arrests.
Jungbluth was charged with first-degree theft and second-degree theft; he was arrested and booked into jail last week and is being held in lieu of $10,000 bail, the records show.
All three defendants are to be arraigned July 16.
The case involving a now-85-year-old Seattle woman began in summer 2007, when the woman went to a street fair and paid Nicholas $30 to read her palm, according to charging documents. Nicholas told the woman she had a "gray aura" and was not doing well, then offered to help make the woman feel better, the papers say.
Over the next three years, the alleged victim, a widow who was estranged from her children, became isolated, confused and "completely dependent" on Nicholas, charging papers say. It is unclear who contacted Seattle police, but a criminal investigation was launched in late November 2011.
Up until December 2011, Nicholas had the woman make frequent withdrawals from her bank accounts and turn the cash over to Nicholas, according to charging documents. Between Sept. 14, 2007, and April 27, 2009, the woman withdrew a total of $1,088,500, money which she gave to Nicholas, usually in increments of $1,000 to $9,900, the papers say.
The elderly woman believed that Nicholas was using the money to take care of her and her affairs, as well as to pay a man named "Father Thomas," who Nicholas allegedly claimed was famous for his healing powers.
In the rental cases, Nicholas allegedly rented a house in March 2011 from a Seattle man who was planning a trip to France but who died the following month, charging papers say. The total loss to his estate is an estimated $13,000, a sum that includes nonpayment of rent, attorney fees to evict Nicholas, items stolen from the house and damaged property, the papers say.
Then in January 2012, the charging papers say, two other landlords — one in West Seattle and one in Kirkland — were also duped by Nicholas, who allegedly claimed she needed a place in the Seattle area to be close to her cancer-stricken mother.
The West Seattle landlord suffered a loss of $2,300, while the Kirkland landlord reported $51,000 worth of goods — including flat-screen TVs, furniture and art — had been taken from his rental residence, according to charging papers. Nicholas' two teenage sons had lived with her in the homes, the papers say.
Jungbluth was charged in connection with thefts from the two Seattle landlords, while Ramirez was charged with involvement in thefts from the landlords in West Seattle and Kirkland, charging papers say.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.