Criminal Conviction for Theft by Daughter who Withdrew Funds from Joint Account with Father Upheld

Criminal conviction of a daughter who withdrew funds from a joint account with her father upheld

An appeals court in Maryland has upheld the criminal conviction of a daughter who withdrew funds from a joint account with her father, holding that her father did not intend to make a gift when he put his daughter’s name on his bank account. Wagner v. State of Maryland.

Marion Wagner was 84 years old, and had three daughters, Karen, Jacqueline, and Kathleen. After his wife passed away, Mr. Wagner attempted to handle his finances himself, but eventually asked his daughter Jacqueline to assist him. At the time, Mr. Wagner’s assets included $200,000.00 in an IRA account, and a checking and savings account. As for income, Mr. Wagner received a monthly pension and Social Security benefits. In 2005, Mr. Wagner added Jacqueline as a joint owner to his checking and savings account so she could access his funds if he was unable to access the funds h

imself due to health issues.

In 2006, Mr. Wagner mortgaged his home for $87,000.00 and loaned the proceeds to Jacqueline to help her with her business. It was Mr. Wagner’s understanding that Jacqueline would repay the loan. In 2007, Mr. Wagner moved from his home to Jacqueline’s home after his home was damaged by fire.

He stayed in Jacqueline’s home for two years. Before he left Jacqueline’s home, Mr. Wagner’s bank notified him that the mortgage on his home had not been paid and threatening foreclosure. Mr. Wagner called the bank and was informed that Jacqueline had not paid the mortgage and that $60,000.00 was owed to the bank. When he asked about how much money he had in his checking and savings account, Mr. Wagner was told that the balance of the account was zero.

Mr. Wagner left Jacqueline’s house and went to live with his daughter Kathy. Over the following months, he began collecting copies of his bank records to find out what happened to the money in his checking and savings account. In 2010, Mr. Wagner filed a complaint against Jacqueline to recover the money she took.

After he filed his complaint, Mr. Wagner went to the police. As a result of an investigation, the police discovered that $181,670.09 was withdrawn from Mr. Wagner’s IRA, and $251,645.83 was taken from his checking and savings account.

After a two-day bench trial, the trial court found Jacqueline guilty of both theft and fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary for taking money from the joint bank account on which she was named as a joint owner with her father. The trial court found that Mr. Wagner added Jacqueline as a joint owner of his account for the sole purpose of giving Jacqueline to access funds in his account for Mr. Wagner’s benefit, that Jacqueline understood that the funds in the joint account belonged to her father, and that Jacqueline withdrew funds from the account and used them for her own benefit.

At sentencing, the trial court sentenced Wagner to eight years for theft (with the misappropriation conviction merging into the theft count) and five years’ unsupervised probation. Jacqueline appealed. On appeal, Jacqueline argued that the trial court’s factual findings were irrelevant because, as a joint owner of the account, she was an “owner” of the property, and thus could not be convicted of stealing her own property.

The appeals court rejected Jacqueline’s argument, upholding the trial court’s judgment. The appeals court held that, in order to determine if Jacqueline was truly an “owner” of her father’s checking and savings account as sheclaimed, the court had “to look to the intent of the victim and determine if he intended to make an irrevocable gift of ownership of the account.” As a result, the appeals court found the trial judge correct in finding that titling an account as “joint owners” presumptively created an ownership interest in both parties, but that presumption can, and was, rebutted by evidence of a contrary intent of the original owner of the account. Since the evidence showed that the titling of the account in both Jacqueline’s and her father’s names did not create an ownership interest in Jacqueline, Jacqueline was guilty of theft and fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary when she withdrew the funds and used them for her own needs rather than her father’s needs.

The case is annexed here – Wagner v. State of Maryland

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