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Evan Terzulli walked into Beatrice Glaser’s life six years ago when the longtime widow was in her late 80s and lived alone, with few friends and one distant niece on the other side of the country. In no time Terzulli, a handyman in his early 30s, became Glaser’s best friend, helping the frail woman run errands, taking her on outings and extensively renovating her rundown house in San Francisco’s Corona Heights. “The two,” lawyer Steven Stoltz said in court papers, “were described as being like brother and sister.” Today, however, Terzulli faces sentencing in San Francisco Superior Court on two felony charges, having pleaded guilty to the unbrotherly act of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Glaser before she died in 1997. Terzulli was accused of unduly influencing Glaser into giving him huge cash gifts and selling him property at below-market rates. He is expected to be sentenced to a year in county jail, servable in home detention. He also has agreed — as part of a related civil suit settlement — to repay $423,000 to a trust for Glaser’s beneficiaries. The settlement also requires a separate $40,000 payment by Michael Sobiloff, a San Rafael tax attorney hired in 1996 to draft an estate plan for the aging woman. Sobiloff was accused in the civil suit of concealing Terzulli’s misdeeds, but he never faced criminal charges and maintains his innocence. “I was just writing up a will for Mrs. Glaser,” Sobiloff says. “All those allegations in that complaint are completely erroneous.” Nonetheless, the two cases involving the Glaser estate highlight the importance of California’s eight-year-old Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, which provides the elderly extra protection from financial theft. But the suits also point out how difficult it can be to prove that an older person is being victimized by a supposed friend. “Those are the ones that are tougher to prove and tougher to analyze, and you largely have to rely on medical or financial experts, particularly when the [victim] is deceased,” says John Carbone, the San Francisco assistant district attorney who prosecuted Terzulli. “The defense is typically that ‘the elderly person wanted me to have this [cash or property] and I’m a great person and I was just taking care of her.’” Abuse, ranging from the physical to the financial, is apparently on the increase in San Francisco. A recent survey by the San Francisco Commission on the Aging found that 14,000 San Franciscans older than 55 had experienced some form of abuse, compared to 5,000 in 1992. Even so, the survey found, elder abuse remains highly underreported because victims are either ashamed or fear reprisals. “We probably only see the tip of the iceberg,” says Herbert Semmel, a staff attorney in the Los Angeles office of the Washington, D.C.-based National Senior Citizens Law Center. “For every person caught [cheating an older person], 10 or more probably get away with it.” Prosecuting elder abuse, particularly financial fleecing, has become a priority in the San Francisco DA’s office. “We’re getting more and more referrals all the time because the word is out that we are interested in prosecuting these types of violations. We have a unit that specializes in it,” Carbone says. “The caseload is kind of snowballing.” The city government got involved earlier this month by declaring May 14 through June 18 “Elder Abuse Awareness Month.” “Elder abuse is a problem we can no longer ignore,” Mayor Willie Brown Jr. declared. “When one person in our community suffers, our entire community suffers.” FRIEND OR FOE? The civil suit against Terzulli and Sobiloff was filed on Sept. 4, 1997, coincidentally one day after Glaser died at the age of 91. The more serious allegations involved Terzulli, including claims that he: � Convinced Glaser to give him nearly $300,000 in cash between July 1994 and July 1997, much of it allegedly to be used to fix up her house at 150 Lower Terrace. � Bought a house Glaser owned at 181 Lower Terrace for $190,000 — well below market value — and signed a promissory note with a 0 percent interest rate that would be forgiven upon her death. � Sold a Carmel rental property that Glaser had owned for 50 years, then deposited the proceeds into bank accounts he controlled. “He just pilfered her estate. He took everything,” says San Francisco lawyer Daniel Murphy, who represented conservator Debra Dolch in the civil suit, In the Matter of the Trust of Beatrice J. Glaser v. Terzulli, 269051. “Her will was overcome,” he says. “She bought this whole, ‘I’m-the-only-one-who-can-take-care-of-you bit.’” Steven Stoltz, the San Francisco solo practitioner who represented Terzulli in the civil suit, declines comment, and Michael Mendelson, the S.F. solo who handled the criminal defense, didn’t return a telephone call. Yet in court papers, Stoltz argued that Terzulli — who met Glaser after being referred to her by a neighbor for whom he had done work — was, indeed, Glaser’s constant companion and that there was nothing wrong about her giving him cash or leaving him a portion of her estate. “In her last years, Evan was Beatrice’s closest friend and closer to her than any of her relatives,” Stoltz wrote. “There is no evidence that Evan appropriated any of Beatrice’s property or money for any improper purpose.” Assistant DA Carbone wouldn’t specifically discuss the Terzulli case because of confidentiality agreements, but he said prosecutors in elder abuse cases, in general, consider the alleged victims’ mental condition and whether they were unduly influenced. “Were they in advanced stages of dementia?” he says. “Did they understand that they were essentially giving away a home or a piece of property? Did they really know what they were doing and what the consequences were?” Apparently, there was enough evidence in the Glaser case to originally charge Terzulli with seven felony counts. He eventually pleaded to one count of embezzling an elder and one count of failing to file a California tax return. Restitution to the Glaser heirs comes from the nearly $500,000 sale of the 181 Lower Terrace house that Terzulli bought from Glaser in 1995. And though it sounds unjust, Terzulli gets a small windfall out of the deal. Proving Terzulli had gained title to the property through fraud would have been difficult at best and costly at worst, lawyers say, so the family agreed to let Terzulli keep $70,000 of the proceeds. “It would have cost us a lot of money to do the trial,” Murphy says. “The settlement in this case resulted in the family of the victim receiving just under half a million dollars.” AN ADVOCATE FOR WHOM? Sobiloff’s involvement remains one of the more contentious issues: Was he a complicit witness to Terzulli’s actions or was he a true advocate for Glaser? Sobiloff, a 33-year lawyer, insists he acted in the woman’s best interests and arranged for a conservator the moment he suspected Terzulli might have acted inappropriately. He contends that he was added to the civil suit solely because of his malpractice insurance. “In 30 years of practice, I’ve never had a claim or a suit or anything against me,” Sobiloff says. “I spent the first five years of my career with the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation, and I’ve always worked to help people.” In court papers, though, Murphy contended that Sobiloff betrayed Glaser by keeping quiet. He not only had a conflict of interest because he allegedly had represented the Terzulli family previously, Murphy claimed, but he also never informed Glaser or the court when he suspected wrongdoing. In fact, Murphy alleges, Glaser handed over $112,000 in cash and checks to Terzulli during Sobiloff’s watch. “They were gifts to Evan and Sobiloff represented the elder,” Murphy says. “We know that he found out about [the abuse] and he never told anyone.” Sobiloff, however, never faced criminal charges. “Based on all the evidence we were aware of,” Carbone says, “we charged the only person [Terzulli] that there appeared to be sufficient evidence to proceed on.” Sobiloff and his lawyer, Timothy Halloran, a partner at Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, say they chose to settle rather than fight a suit in which Terzulli was a co-defendant. “It was a nuisance value [settlement],” Halloran says. “My client, from my perspective, had clearly met the [proper] standard and did what he had to do [in fairly representing Glaser].” Even so, Halloran gloomily predicts more scenarios like that of Glaser and Terzulli — where relative strangers befriend lonely older people, then cross the line between friend and abuser. “It’s one thing for someone to be giving you an heirloom,” he says. “It’s another for them to be cutting you checks for $60,000.” Unfortunately, Carbone adds, proving the difference will never be easy. “There is no law,” he says, “that says [elders] aren’t allowed to give their entire estate away if they want to.”

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