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Brown Obtains No Contest Plea from Woman who Bilked Retirees to Fund Gambling Habit

Friday, September 11, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837

Sacramento – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that a former life insurance agent who “bilked” retirees out of $435,100 to pay for a daily gambling habit, pled no contest late Thursday to 12 counts of grand theft and burglary.

Maria Elna Flora, 59, of Sacramento, will be sentenced on October 8 in Sacramento Superior Court to 13 years, 4 months in prison and will be ordered to pay her victims full restitution.

“Maria Elna Flora bilked retirees out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by persuading them to shift their retirement savings into sham real estate investments,” Brown said. 'Flora stole thousands from retirees and used it to fund a daily gambling habit.”

Flora, a licensed life insurance agent, sold annuities to retirees looking for financial security. After completing annuity sales, Flora would offer additional investment opportunities, promising returns ranging from 10 to 20 percent. The funds, she said, would be used to make real estate loans to investors willing to pay high interest rates. In reality, none of the funds Flora collected were invested as promised.

From January 2005 through August 2007, Flora convinced at least twelve individuals living in Butte, El Dorado, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Stanislaus and Yolo counties to invest between $5,000 and $88,000. Flora encouraged investors, who ranged in age from 51 to 92 years old, to shift savings from annuities, life insurance policies, certificates of deposit and savings accounts, to her short term, high return investment. In total, retirees invested more than $435,000 with Flora.

In most of these cases, Flora made a few interest payments to investors and then stopped. When victims asked about the returns, Flora promised to pay at a later date, but never did.

In 2007, the California Department of Insurance initiated an investigation after Flora's former employer filed a complaint. Earlier this year, the case was turned over to the Yolo County District Attorney's Office for prosecution. The Yolo County District Attorney's Office continued the investigation and then referred the case to Brown's office because there were victims in at least five other California counties.

The investigation found that Flora used investors' money to fund an expensive gambling habit which included almost daily slot play from January 2005 through August 2007 at Thunder Valley Casino.

She was arrested June 18, 2009 by Yolo County law enforcement officials.

Flora's victims included:
• A 78-year old Placerville resident who invested $88,000;
• A 76-year old retired bookkeeper in Elk Grove who invested $50,000;
• An 85-year old retired education professional in West Sacramento who invested $47,000;
• A 71-year old Modesto resident who invested $45,000;
• An 83-year old Chico resident who invested $42,600;
• A 72-year old Woodland resident who invested $32,000;
• A 92-year old Vacaville resident who invested $20,000;
• An 80-year old retired department store employee in Citrus Heights who invested $10,000;
• A 73-year old Sacramento resident who invested $10,000;
• A 67-year old West Sacramento resident who invested $5,000;
• An 82-year old Lodi resident who invested $71,500; and
• A 51-year old North Highlands resident who invested $19,000.
On June 19, 2009 Brown filed criminal charges against Flora in Sacramento County Superior Court for:
• Grand theft in violation of Section 487 of California's Penal Code;
• Embezzlement from an elder or dependent adult in violation of Section 368 of California's Penal Code; and
• Burglary in violation of Section 459 of California's Penal Code.
Copies of the felony complaint and arrest warrant affidavit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, are attached.

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