A prosecutor said Friday that Denise D’Sant Angelo found occasion to help herself — to the tune of $2,800 — while others were helping Catholic Church nuns about to lose their homes.
The statement came as part of prosecutor Brian Cota’s opening remarks to a Santa Barbara jury in D’Sant Angelo’s felony grand theft trial. Authorities allege that while a group was formed to try to help the nuns — who were being evicted by the church to offset costs from litigation — D’Sant Angelo stepped in and took over leadership of the group, including much of the finances. Shortly thereafter, she deposited the $2,800 over a series of days, Cota said, into her personal checking account without anyone’s knowledge, and over the course of the next five weeks made 13 withdrawals until her account was in the negative. But, he said, that money didn’t go back to the nuns. “The evidence will not show that money was pulled out and placed somewhere else,” he said. Additionally, he alleged, she was soliciting cash donations from people, despite the fact the group’s committee had decided against doing that. “While [some people] see an opportunity to help others, some people see it as an opportunity to help themselves,” he said.
D’Sant Angelo’s attorney, deputy public defender Jeff Chambliss, said that there were already plans for the three sisters to move out of town before the convent caught word of the so-called eviction. D’Sant Angelo made the same claim Thursday in an interview, saying the sisters were soliciting funds under false pretenses, that they were in fact not being evicted, but they had “decided they were going to relocate,” she said. “They had planned on leaving anyway.”
Chambliss said at the time, D’Sant Angelo was doing work on behalf of the organization, establishing a nonprofit and setting up a bank account (two things Cota says never happened, though the California Secretary of State’s Web site does show a Save our Sisters registered under the defendant’s name). With checks in her possession, he said, she was having trouble opening a bank account for the organization, so she deposited the money into her own account. Shortly thereafter, she made several cash withdrawals and put the money in a bag, along with 26 more uncashed checks. She held onto the money “because she [was] confused about what to do with this money,” Chambliss said. Despite the Save our Sisters mission statement which said the group was supposed to support the sisters’ quest to find housing, he said, the money was being used not for housing but daily expenses.
So it will be up to the jury to sort out what really happen, and the group of 12 (seven men and seven women make up the 12 jurors and two alternates) must determine what D’Sant Angelo’s intent was when she deposited those checks. D’Sant Angelo said she was unsure if she was going to testify at the trial, which is expected to last through next week.
D’Sant Angelo is no stranger to the Santa Barbara Superior Court, though most of the action involving the defendant has been in civil court. According to DA’s briefs, D’Sant Angelo has had judgments against her in several small claims, civil and evictions, totaling more than $140,000. She also has another criminal case pending against her, this one alleging financial elder abuse. Authorities say the defendant stole money from an older couple, though even the victims dispute the charge. A trial in that case is still months off.
Meanwhile, D’Sant Angelo lambasted media coverage of her story in a conversation Thursday, saying that the real story was not being covered by media. She called her prosecution political and claims that Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez was a driving force behind her prosecution because there is a beef between the two of them. She accused him of warning witnesses not to testify in her case, and she said complaints had been filed against him with internal affairs at the department.
She also claims that one of the Sisters of Bethany, Sister Angela Escalera, is in fact no longer a nun and “had been a problem for quite some time,” even going as far to say the Sisters of Bethany stole $10,600 from the nonprofit established to help them. She said the entire matter is being investigated by the Attorney General’s office. “There’s a lot of scamming going on here, but it’s not by me. There’s been this one-sided story against me that I’m some sort of monster. But I’ve spent thousands of dollars for the sisters out of my own pocket,” she said. “It comes down to greed. It’s all about greed.” Indeed this case probably is, as most cases involving money are. And now it is up to a Santa Barbara jury to determine in whom the greed lies.