Brett E. Lovett met and befriended two of his elderly victims at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Carpinteria. | Credit: S.B. County Sheriff's Office/Google Maps

Brett Lovett — a recently convicted flimflam man who targeted elderly members of Carpinteria’s Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where he functioned as a “ministerial servant” — is now looking at a sentence of up to 24 years and eight months behind bars. That’s the term recommended by county probation officer Lindsay Whitmeyer, who prepared the sentencing report for Judge Pauline Maxwell. Judge Maxwell is scheduled to rule on June 7.

Although Whitmeyer concluded that the ex-insurance agent had no prior record, posed a low risk of recidivism, and was willing to comply with the terms of probation, she recommended a lengthy prison sentence instead of probation.

In her sentencing report, Whitmeyer used words like “egregious,” “reprehensible,” and “unconscionable” to describe Lovett’s conduct. In all, Lovett bilked nine victims — some mentally and physically infirm, some members of his church, but not all from Santa Barbara County — of $1.1 million. It was not so much the amount of money taken, but the abuse of a trust so carefully insinuated, she argued, and the devastating impact of the loss.

“Several of the victims were left homeless and destitute as a result of the defendant’s crimes as they entrusted him with their life savings,” Whitmeyer wrote. “This is particularly reprehensible because some of the victims were elderly, and the defendant deliberately took the money they had saved to live upon while in retirement.” He did this, she added, by deliberately engendering relationships of trust.

One victim, R. Bush — a 77-year-old man who belonged to Kingdom Hall — described Lovett as being “a replacement son” at a time when Bush was not getting along with one of his own sons. Bush was swindled out of $133,000.

Another victim, M. Riskewic — now in her late eighties — deposited $176,000 in proceeds from the sale of her house with Lovett, most of which she never would see again. That was in 2014. When she kept demanding her money, Lovett tried three times to have Riskewic — also a member of the Kingdom Hall — committed to a psychiatric hospital. She ultimately became so physically ill from the stress that she had to be hospitalized for months.

In 2015, Riskewic flew to Scotland after her brother, who lived there, died. She moved into her brother’s public housing there but was quickly evicted because Lovett failed to send along the documents attesting to her income stream. When she returned to the United States, she was homeless, living in a motel for a month and then couch surfing briefly at Lovett’s home.

When Riskewic raised a stink at Kingdom Hall about Lovett — who reportedly harbored ambitions of becoming a church elder one day — Lovett asked Bush if he “could borrow his credit rating” to secure the funds necessary to pay Riskewic. (At some point, Lovett was “disfellowshipped” from Kingdom Hall.) Bush would later discover that Lovett used Bush’s credit card to pay $4,400 for massages, among other things.

Among Lovett’s other victims was a “mentally disabled” man from Yuba City whose mother had passed away, leaving him the beneficiary of four life insurance policies. Lovett also worked as a paralegal at a Pasadena law firm and represented himself as a mediator as well as a financial advisor and insurance broker. An Orange County woman on state assistance with severe physical and mental challenges sought Lovett’s assistance when her grandmother died and left her an Orange County home and trust worth $300,000. By the time Lovett was through helping, court records contend, the woman and her daughter were left “homeless and destitute.”

A Santa Barbara jury found Lovett guilty on multiple counts of fraud on March 26 for a case that dates back more than 10 years. Although Lovett had never been criminally charged before, the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission had ordered him in 2007 to make restitution of $635,000, most of which was earmarked for four members of his church for fraudulent investments.

Lovett declined to provide a statement of his own for the probation report, but he did state he would be “150 percent” successful if placed on probation instead of behind bars. “I am a man who wants to be accountable,” he stated. “I need to make restitution … I need to be responsible.” He added, “To say I feel remorse is a sad understatement.”

It wasn’t clear to Deputy Probation Officer Whitmeyer how Lovett — who explained he had hired a marketing team for his business a few months ago while behind bars — could make the $550,000 in restitution to his victims.

According to prosecutor Casey Nelson and the probation report, Lovett had used the proceeds to pay for hair transplants for himself and breast implants for his girlfriend, for mediation classes at Loyola and Pepperdine, for a beach house rental, airline tickets, food, clothing, car rentals, and other general expenses.

All the victims interviewed for the probation report felt strongly that Lovett should serve time behind bars and that probation was not enough. “I lost everything but the clothes I was in,” said Riskewic. “I lost my family, my friends, two congregations. He told so many lies. … It ruined my life and I’ll never be back to what I was.”

Another victim stated, “I’m an old woman now without a means. He destroyed me.”

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