AP, Ledger-Enquirer.com (AL), May 22
LOS ANGELES — The owners of a neighborhood market have renounced their U.S. citizenship and left the country after pleading guilty to swindling an elderly woman of more than $1 million, federal authorities said.
The men’s nephew, meanwhile, is a fugitive from charges that he tried to kill the 85-year-old victim last year by hitting her with a car, authorities said Friday.
Ismat Sabha, 49, and Nashat Sabha, 46, pleaded guilty May 5 to conspiracy in connection with elder abuse and theft, authorities said. Their seven-year sentences were suspended when they agreed to return the money and renounce their citizenship, which they did at a U.S. consulate in Tijuana. They returned to Jordan on Thursday and, as convicted felons, cannot get visas to return, said John Rocha, a senior special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We assure ourselves that no American will ever be victimized by them again,” Rocha said.
The case broke last year when customs agents in Memphis intercepted an undeclared $100,000 check being sent by Federal Express to Jordan and feared it might be going to terrorist causes, Rocha said.
Terrorists eventually were ruled out but the complex case finally led to the Sabha brothers.
Beginning as far back as 1992, the men stole more than $3 million from at least three elderly women that were customers of the Star Market, a liquor and convenience store they owned in Los Angeles, authorities said.
The men, who were naturalized citizens living in the United States for more than 20 years, would befriend the women and eventually raid their credit card and debit accounts for cash as well as convince them to sell real estate and turn over the proceeds, Rocha said.
The money went to other family members in Jordan, who owned a hotel and were building another, he said.
One victim, Anita McKinnon, 89, lost all her savings, Rocha said. When she discovered she had been duped, she began to help the brothers victimize another woman, Anne Kelly, in hopes of getting back some of her money, Rocha said.
She pleaded guilty to conspiracy earlier this year and was sentenced to the four months she already has spent in prison, said Sandi Gibbons of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
About $1.3 million was stolen from Kelly. All but about $128,000 has been returned and the woman, who suffers from dementia, is living with a full-time caregiver in a secure apartment, said Frumeh Labow, her court-appointed conservator.
About half of her savings had been stolen when a nephew, suspecting foul play, stepped in and arranged to have the assets frozen and a conservator appointed, authorities said.
The nephew also may have saved Kelly’s life by alerting authorities, Rocha said.
The men apparently had intended to kill Kelly because they had access to her account and no longer needed her, he alleged.
Labow said Kelly was hospitalized twice in January 2002. She was struck by a hit-and-run driver and another time was found vomiting in the courtyard of her apartment building.
“It’s our belief that she was given denatured alcohol slipped into a drink,” Labow said.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Mohammed Sughair, a nephew of the two brothers, on charges of theft, conspiracy, attempted murder and making criminal threats, Gibbons said.
He may be in Jordan, Rocha said.
Guadalupe Sabha, Nashat Sabha’s wife, earlier this year pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to 228 days in jail.
Beatrice Lawson, a lawyer accused of helping the brothers, is awaiting trial on charges of theft, authorities said.