Thou Shalt Not Steal From Nuns

Barney Gives a Nuns, News-Press Update

NUNS’ STORY: There are certain things you can’t do without risking the long arm of the law coming down on you. And stealing from nuns is one of them.

Ripping off people who’ve taken a vow of poverty is a No. 1 no-no. It’ll get the attention of solid citizens and law enforcement quicker than Ponzi schemers or crooked CEOs.

There are smarties, of course, who try to finesse the legal system, making broken-field runs through the courts, stiff-arming lawyers, calling fake fouls on the clerks, demanding time-consuming reviews, seeking delays of the game, disqualifying field judges, and generally trying to bamboozle everyone with trick plays.

Barney Brantingham

And so, on January 28, after countless delays, Denise D’Sant Angelo will be tried on charges that she embezzled $2,800, money that kind Santa Barbara residents had donated to aid three Sisters of Bethany forced out of their Eastside convent in 2007.

Now, I grant you, this is not big money, and if she’d handed it over when first asked two years ago, probably nothing more would have been said. But now it’s the principle of the thing.

You probably remember that saga. What’s new is that the District Attorney’s office wants the jury to hear that D’Sant Angelo “is a person who has repeatedly been involved in activities designed to defraud” others in civil cases that are not part of the criminal case she’s charged with. Her current unpaid civil judgments total $191,375 in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, according to the DA’s office. The idea is to shed light on how she operates, and show the jury that she likely had fraudulent intent in stashing the donations in her personal bank account.

Most of the civil cases dealt with D’Sant Angelo renting apartments or homes, then not paying rent and repeatedly filing for bankruptcy to halt efforts to oust her. She filed 15 times between 1994 and this year. When landlords got judgments against her, she just didn’t pay them, the DA’s office said.

Normally, such civil cases aren’t admissible if a prosecutor wants to show that a defendant “had the criminal disposition or propensity to commit the crime,” conceded Senior Deputy DA Darryl Perlin. But he contended in his motion to Judge Jean Dandona that the cases would vividly illustrate past practices by D’Sant Angelo without prejudicing a jury. She is “a habitual defrauder,” Perlin said.

D’Sant Angelo’s public defender, Jeff Chambliss, couldn’t be reached, but is expected to challenge Perlin’s move.

NP WRITER SUSPENDED: Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw apparently has broken federal labor law again. I’ve learned that feature writer Karna Hughes recently was suspended for two weeks. The News-Press, from what I’ve heard, claims Hughes violated company rules by talking to a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigator. But the actual reason she’s joined Wendy’s enemies list apparently is that she’s on the committee attempting to negotiate a union contract.

The Teamsters Union, which represents the newsroom, says what Hughes did was protected by labor law. Ironically, the paper was prosecuted this year by the NLRB for firing another member of the negotiating committee, sports writer Dennis Moran. The News-Press was prosecuted on yet another stack of federal labor law violations this year, including bad-faith bargaining, discontinuing annual raises and bonuses after the union vote, hiring temporary employees to undermine the bargaining unit, laying off employees without bargaining with the union, and interfering with NLRB investigations. The NLRB administrative law judge’s decision on these matters is not expected for months.

My tip about Hughes came from someone in the community not connected to either the newspaper or the union. Nick Caruso, chief Teamster negotiator, then confirmed that an unnamed employee had been suspended and was now back to work.

News-Press attorney A. Barry Cappello replied to my query: “It is a practice not to comment on private employee-employer issues.”

WRITERS CONFERENCE RED INK: With prior owner Marcia Meier having declared bankruptcy and “transitioning to new adventures,” there’s speculation that the Santa Barbara Writers Conference’s new owner may be author Monte Schulz, son of Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz.

Monte reportedly offered to buy the 37-year-old conference last year but was turned down. Meier bought it from founders Mary and Barnaby Conrad in 2004 but canceled the 2009 event, blaming the recession and incurring major debts. “I do not expect my leaving [by the end of December] to affect next March’s Weekend of Poetry or next June’s conference,” she said. Whether they happen, however, remains to be seen. Meier declined to reveal the name of the new owner/director.

KULTURE TIME: Whatta weekend. Katharine Hepburn had a style, a look, and a voice like none other. Hard to duplicate onstage, but Stephanie Zimbalist nailed the part perfectly in the current one-woman play at Ensemble Theatre, Tea at Five. Camerata Pacifica went from Tchaikovsky’s Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello to Piazzolla’s tango rhythms at Hahn Hall, and the Santa Barbara Choral Society lovingly performed Handel’s Messiah at the Granada. Music may be the best gift of all.


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