Ending a process that has lasted nearly a year, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge George Eskin passed sentencing on Amanda Leigh Charis on the morning of Wednesday, August 1. Charis – convicted of four felony counts, including grand theft and perjury – was sentenced to 365 days in Santa Barbara County Jail, a psychological evaluation, and just over $78,000 in restitution to the three plaintiffs in the case, all former landlords who described Charis’s tenancy as being marked by outrageous behavior.
Upon moving into all three of the residences owned by the plaintiffs, Charis began making unreasonable demands for home improvements and harassing her landlords by yelling insults at them, videotaping their comings and goings, and calling the police. According to the landlords, Charis made improvements without authorization, and deducted the cost from her rent payment. She also claimed on numerous occasions that her property was stolen or damaged-including business computers, jewelry, and her car-often accusing her landlords of the theft.
Many times, the landlords claim, Charis submitted checks for payment of rent which she insufficient available funds. Claiming that she didn’t have enough income to pay the rent, the court later found that she received numerous gifts and donations from friends, relatives, and even Catholic Charities in addition to sporadic income and child support payments. Bank records show that she closed accounts before checks were cashed to make it appear that she had insufficient funds, but at one point she had nearly $25,000 in an account.
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 attempted to trick Ms. Ballantyne into believing she had a year-long lease, when the rental agreement was actually month-to-month. Jill Ballantyne had difficulty getting Charis to leave when she wanted to sell the house. Eventually agreeing to pay Charis $19,000 for moving expenses and allegedly damaged or stolen property, and forgiving over $15,000 of back rent, Ballantyne found that Charis still refused to move out until the last minute. Charis’ video recording-submitted to the court as evidence-attempted to show movers “trespassing” on “her” property, when in fact, the DVD was recorded the day after she moved out.
Sharon Granoff-the owner of the Islay Street property Charis moved into after being evicted from Ballantyne’s house-said she breathed a sigh of relief when the judge read the sentence. In her witness impact statement at the beginning of the hearing, she said in reference to her experiences with Charis, “I wish the court could see her sneering face behind the video camera she seemed to have everywhere, or when she hurled insults at me as I went in and out of my house, or when she smashed my flowerpots and provoked my dog.”
Granoff said she had problems with Charis from the start, receiving a falsified rental application, and not realizing the mistake she had made until after two months of occupancy. Demanding that walls in the house be repainted, charging Granoff with a hotel bill because-due to the smell of the paint-she could not live in the house while it was being painted, and making unauthorized repairs that she then deducted from the rent, Charis reportedly paid only $200 of her $1,800 rent in January, 2005. Granoff served her with a 30-day eviction notice and did a background check, leading her to Jill Ballantyne. A full disclosure of what had happened at Charis’ previous residence prompted Granoff to hire an attorney to assist with the eviction process.
After causing the same sort of problems at the property of John Maxwell, court proceedings finally began in the summer of 2006. Charis plead no contest to 13 felony counts, and was convicted of four when plea bargaining ended in January, 2007.
“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 an independently employed business consultant who is raising a four-year-old son by herself. He 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. “Ms. Charis is salvageable,” Allen said. “I don’t think she’s going to go into a lifetime of stealing and fraud.” Allen asked the judge to consider mild retribution payments and supervised probation as a sentence. He also plead 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 said in reference to Granoff’s statement, “Just because you’re a victim doesn’t make you right, but in the case of Sharon Granoff, every word is true.” He continued by pointing out documented bank fraud and even supplying of false documents by Charis as evidence in court. McKinley called Charis “extremely calculating.”
Despite Eskin’s praise of what he called a “brilliant performance” by Allen, he found that too many factors indicated that Charis continuously took money from her landlords in a dishonest way, and showed no remorse in doing so. In reference to the trial he said, “She showed her callous indifference. There are some real psychological problems here,” he continued, adding a mandatory psychological evaluation to the mental counseling recommended by the probation officer’s report. Although the probation officer recommended 180 days of jail time, Eskin found a 365-day sentence to be more appropriate, and she was immediately remanded into the custody of County Sheriff’s Deputies.