When ailing 95-year-old woman got bilked, OCSD investigators worked hard to get suspect
He lived in a $2.2-million home in Newport Coast, and despite having a three-car garage, he liked to keep his two leased luxury vehicles — a 2016 Maserati and 2016 GLK Mercedes SUV — parked in the driveway, presumably for show.
In 2015, for two weeks, Thomas Chapman Hood enjoyed Paris in the fall.
During that vacation, the 68-year-old real estate agent dined at high-end restaurants like Fouquet’s, a symbol of wealth where a bottle of mineral water will set you back $12, and slept at the tony Hôtel Royal Madeleine.
But Hood wasn’t using money he earned to pay for that trip, his cars, his credit bills and other expenses, according to an investigation by the Economics Crimes Unit of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department that led to his arrest Feb. 8.
Rather, Hood at least partially supported his lavish lifestyle with $534,850 he allegedly stole from a 95-year-old woman in the advanced stages of dementia, as well as money he is accused of stealing from a longtime friend and that friend’s dead sister, according to the OCSD and a litany of felony charges filed by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
OCSD Inv. Matt LeFlore had only been on the Economic Crimes Unit for eight months when he was tapped as lead investigator on the Hood case, which landed on his desk in October 2016.
Four months later, LeFlore and other colleagues on the Economic Crimes Unit, working with OCDA Senior Deputy District Attorney Marc Labreche of the Major Fraud Unit, had Hood in custody — an unusually short duration for a major fraud investigation.
Such cases typically take six months or a year to present to the OCDA because of the complexities involved in getting bank records and detailing the paper and electronic trails of suspects, said Sgt. Jeff Cole, who runs the OCSD’s Economic Crimes Unit, which has eight investigators, two investigative assistants and an office specialist.
Investigators like LeFlore juggle between 40 and 60 cases at any time.
Because the primary victim in the Hood case was the seriously ailing 95-year-old Jane Doe, LeFlore made it a priority to get to the bottom of the alleged fraud. Her death would make the case more difficult to prosecute, with the legal process of probate kicking in.
“We saw the victim’s age, we saw the amount of missing money and her underlying medical issues, and made this case a priority,” Cole said. “Matt did a good job of getting it wrapped up and filed.”
VIOLATION OF TRUST
Hood, who LeFlore says has no previous convictions related to fraud, is being held at Orange County Jail in lieu of $534,850 bail. In order to post bond, he must prove the money is not coming from his allegedly ill-gotten gains.
At the time of the crime, Hood was employed part-time as an assistant to the trustee of 95-year-old Jane Doe’s bank accounts. Hood worked from the home office of the trustee’s secretary in Orange.
The alleged fraud came to light when the trustee, a longtime friend of Hood, tried to transfer Jane Doe into a more specialized care facility because of her ailing health. When the trustee tried to make a $3,000 deposit, he found out her life savings had been drained from her bank account.
Jane Doe had inherited well over $1 million from her late husband and had been living comfortably off the money until she fell ill about two years ago, according to LeFlore.
The trustee, 80, had hired Hood as a part-time assistant because of Hood’s expertise with computers, LeFlore said. Hood helped the trustee out with electronic banking and electronic court filings.
Hood had access to the home office of the trustee’s secretary, a woman in her 70s.
“When they let him in the house and he was unmonitored he was apparently helping himself to (Jane Doe’s) checks,” LeFlore said.
Hood is accused of stealing Jane Doe’s checkbooks from the home office and, between March 17, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016, forging the trustee’s signature on dozens of checks and depositing them into his personal bank account.
Hood allegedly used the stolen funds to pay for his personal expenses, including credit card bills totaling $114,000 and the trip to Paris, from Sept. 9, 2015 to about Oct. 11, 2015.
OCSD investigators found a total of 169 stolen checks made out to Hood in denominations that included $650, $4,800, $5,600, $6,350 and $7,600.
In addition to allegedly stealing from Jane Doe’s accounts, Hood is accused of bilking some money from the trustee’s account as well as the probate account of the trustee’s deceased sister.
After the trustee’s check for Jane Doe’s new assisted living home bounced on Oct. 6, 2016, the trustee contacted the OCSD. And because they were unable to immediately relocate Jane Doe, the trustee and his wife had to take shifts around the clock taking care of her until they were able to get her into a new facility, LeFlore said.
OCSD investigators arrested Hood on the morning of Feb. 7 as he was leaving his four-bedroom, three-bathroom home and about to get into his Mercedes.
Hood’s longtime “significant other,” as Hood described the woman to OCSD investigators, owns the home.
She came outside and was shocked to see what was transpiring.
“You’re just incredible,” she sarcastically told Hood, according to LeFlore, an OCSD veteran of 12 years who served in the Marines for more than five years.
LeFlore said Hood was cooperative but shocked.
“He thought we would let him turn himself in later,” LeFlore said.
Later that day, Hood was charged with 19 felony counts of forgery, one felony count of first-degree residential burglary to commit larceny and financial elder abuse, and one felony count of theft from an elder, with sentencing enhancement allegations for non-accomplices being present during residential burglary, aggravated white collar crime over $500,000, and property loss of over $200,000.
LeFlore figures he and his colleagues on the Economics Crime Unit spent about 150 hours on the case leading up to Hood’s arrest.
Cole said Jane Doe might not live long enough to get any of her money back.
These and other similar white-collar crimes can have devastating effects on victims and their families, he and LeFlore said.
“We’ve had people whose businesses go under because they can’t recover from their loss, and some who die of stress by having their medical condition exacerbated because they can’t pay for needed treatment — all for a fancy car and an ocean view,” Cole said.
His advice to all: “Keep you eye on your bank accounts.”
Labreche, the O.C. prosecutor, said if convicted on all counts, Hood faces a maximum sentence of 26 years and eight months. He only would serve 80 percent of any sentence because he has not been charged with a violent felony, Labreche said.