Ending a nearly yearlong legal ordeal, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge George Eskin on August 1 sentenced Amanda Leigh Charis to 365 days in Santa Barbara County Jail, a psychological evaluation, and slightly more than $78,000 in restitution. Charis had been convicted of four felony counts, including grand theft and perjury; complainants Jill Ballantyne, Sharon Granoff, and John Maxwell-all former landlords-described Charis’s tenancy in their respective properties as being marked by outrageous behavior.
Upon moving into the residences owned by each of the three complainants, Charis reportedly began making unreasonable demands and harassing her landlords by yelling insults at them and videotaping them. According to the landlords, Charis made home improvements without authorization and deducted the cost from her rent payment. She also claimed on numerous occasions that her property-which included computers, jewelry, and her car-was stolen or damaged, and often accused her landlords of theft. Many times, the landlords claimed, Charis bounced rent checks. The court later found that Charis had received numerous gifts and donations, in addition to sporadic income and child support payments. Bank records show that she closed accounts before checks were cashed in order to make it appear that she had insufficient funds; at one point she had nearly $25,000 in a single account.
“It’s true that she made some terrible judgments here which constituted crimes, but she was under extreme pressure,” said Charis’s attorney, Joe Allen, who pointed out that Charis is independently employed and raising a 4-year-old son by herself. Allen further maintained that constantly moving had a detrimental effect on her son and her source of income, which-according to bank records-appears to be unstable. Allen asked the judge to consider mild retribution payments and supervised probation as a sentence. He also pleaded for a reasonable amount of time for Charis to get her personal affairs in order before turning herself in at the county jail.
Prosecutor Patrick McKinley rebutted by saying, “Having an honest, competent lawyer is not a defense.” He continued by pointing out documented bank fraud and even Charis’s supplying of false documents as evidence in court, calling Charis “extremely calculating.”
Despite Eskin’s praise of Allen’s defense, he found too many factors that indicated Charis had continuously taken money in a dishonest way and showed no remorse in doing so. “There are some real psychological problems here,” Eskin said, adding a mandatory psychological evaluation to the counseling recommended by the Probation Department. Although the probation officer recommended 180 days of jail time, Eskin found a 365-day sentence to be more appropriate. Charis was then immediately remanded into the custody of sheriff’s deputies.
When one of the properties at which Charis lived went into foreclosure, it changed hands from Joe Ballantyne to his ex-wife, Jill Ballantyne. According to court documents, Charis told Jill Ballantyne she had a yearlong lease when the rental agreement was actually month-to-month. Jill Ballantyne eventually agreed to pay Charis $19,000 for moving expenses and allegedly damaged or stolen property, as well as $15,000 worth of back rent.
Granoff-the owner of the Islay Street property Charis moved into after the eviction from Ballantyne’s property-said she had problems with Charis from the start. Granoff said Charis demanded that the walls in the house be repainted, then presented Granoff with a hotel bill because she could not stay in the house due to paint fumes. After Granoff allegedly received only $200 of Charis’s $1,800 rent in January 2005, the landlord served her with a 30-day eviction notice and did a background check, which led her to Jill Ballantyne. A full disclosure of what had happened at Charis’s previous residence prompted Granoff to hire an attorney to assist with the eviction process. After Charis reportedly caused similar problems at the property of John Maxwell, her next landlord, court proceedings began in the summer of 2006. Charis pleaded no contest to 13 felony counts and was convicted of four in a plea bargain struck in January 2007.