On Tuesday morning, Denise D’Sant Angelo’s case continued with testimonies from several key players within the investigation. D’Sant Angelo is accused of stealing $2,800 from a fundraising organization that had attempted to salvage housing for area nuns. The morning began with the defendant’s attorney Jeff Chambliss presenting Exhibit C: A tape recording of a February 25 phone conversation between Sister Mary Angela and Stephan Gonzales.
On that February day, across from Gutierrez Street at a local consignment shop, Gonzales overheard a woman saying to the clerk that she was collecting money for the Save Our Sisters campaign. Gonzales, thinking that this was rather strange, talked to the clerk who confirmed the woman was asking for donations to save the sisters’ housing. Gonzales then called Sister Mary Angela and asked if she had approved the volunteers to collect money, to which Sister Mary Angela replied, “Solicited donations are not sanctioned by Save Our Sisters.” On the recording, Gonzales then goes on to describe the woman as about 5’4” or 5’5”, with short, dark hair and wearing glasses — a description perfectly fitting to the defendant.
Witness Brandee Hostler was then brought to the stand. Hostler is branch manager of the Citibank of Santa Barbara and has been there for more than two years. Prosecutor Brian Cota began by inquiring about the account that D’Sant Angelo had at the bank. Cota presented Hostler with the defendant’s ATM deposits and transactions and asked her to read aloud each page. There was only one check made out to Denise D’Sant Angelo while all the others in that particular billing period (from October 18 through November 26) were made out to Save Our Sisters. All the checks made out to Save Our Sisters were endorsed by D’Sant Angelo and deposited into her personal checking account. On November 26 the defendant’s account was shown to be overdrawn and in the negative.
Hostler went on to say that usually tellers do not process checks made out to a different person or business if the check does not match the depositor’s name, and that D’Sant Angelo was the only signer on the account. Hostler also stated that the teller who helped D’Sant Angelo is “no longer with Citibank.”
Next to testify was Sister Mary Angela herself. To address the accusation that the convent sisters planned to use the money to move, not save their housing, Cota asked the sister to explain her whole history with The Sisters of Bethany. Sister Angela explained that in May, she and her two sisters at the convent decided it would be best to renovate the bathroom so that Sister Mary Angela would not have to walk all the way down the hall with her walker, as she has many health problems which inhibit her ability to walk. The mother general approved the renovation, and it was completed before she received the eviction letter in August.
The approval from the mother general as well as the fact that the renovation actually took place gave Sister Angela and her colleagues the impression that they were there to stay. Sister Mary Angela stated, “I came to Santa Barbara, and was planning to die [here], buried next to my beloved sister.” The plot had already been staked out. She was completely surprised when she received the eviction letter. Strangely, the renovation was finished in June, and the letter — although received in August — was dated in June.
Sister Mary Angela said she was very distraught from the news of the forced move and although she knew she shouldn’t talk about it, she found in daily conversation that it would just come out. Eventually, word got around and the press had contacted her shortly after Labor Day. As soon as it was released, the news traveled as far as the Los Angeles Times, and Sister Mary Angela was told by the mother general to release no further information about their situation, to which she agreed.
Next to the stand was Sister Mary Angela’s actual sister, Rosemary Guitierrez. Guitierrez, currently a resident of Hacienda Heights, has always been closely involved with her sister and the convent. Guitierrez went on to discuss how she met D’Sant Angelo at a meeting she attended, and how she had built a relationship of trust with her through communication in person and through email. Sister Angela and Guitierrez both talked about the trust that the whole group had built for D’Sant Angelo, and that they were “thoroughly impressed by her experience” which could benefit the group. At the meeting during which the plans for a Mass at the Courthouse Sunken Gardens were discussed, Guitierrez decided that she would make a donation to the group of $1,000, expecting D’Sant Angelo to put it into the nonprofit account.
The entire group was purportedly under the impression that the defendant had created the bank account and had been depositing into it the whole time. No one, it was reported, ever gave her permission to cash checks into her own personal account. When Sister Mary Angela was at the stand, she discussed how she and Sister Consuelo had written a check with the remaining money in the original Save Our Sisters account for $10,600 to D’Sant Angelo, and expected that to be deposited as well.
When the Mass plan was cancelled, Guitierrez said she had not expected the check to be withdrawn, but D’Sant Angelo deposited that check under her own name as well. After the knowledge of the solicitation, and the seemingly fraudulent deposit of Guitierrez’s check, Sister Mary Angela and member Ernie Salomon decided to end the nonprofit and cut off all relations with Denise D’Sant Angelo. Sister Angela and Sister Consuelo stopped the check for $10,600 for this reason as well.
After all of this had occurred and had been spread throughout the press, the mother general decided that she did not want the sisters to move back into that convent even if they had raised the money, because they were no longer acting as “sisters of obedience.” The $10,600 is now back in the Sisters of Bethany bank account, and the funds are being used for the sisters’ daily necessities.
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Rachel Mattovich is an Independent intern.