Neva Ogle stands on a porch. She passed away in Nov. 2020 while her elder fraud case was still pending: The State of Alaska vs. James Vernon Sigler and Carla Sue Jones Sigler. (Photo courtesy of Beth Goldstein, Deputy Director/Supervising Attorney, Alaska Office of Public Advocacy, Elder Fraud & Assistance and Public Guardian Units)

A former Alaska couple has been ordered to pay nearly one and a half million dollars for taking money from a Yakutat elder. As CoastAlaska’s Angela Denning reports, the couple took hundreds of thousands of dollars and used it to retire early and buy a home in Texas.

A decade ago, former Tanana superintendent of schools Carla Sigler and her husband, Vernon James Sigler, approached a friend with a big ask: The couple wanted a quarter of a million dollars to put towards Carla’s retirement.

Their friend, 86-year-old Yakutat elder Neva Ogle, agreed to lend the Siglers the money. They were all living in Yakutat at the time and knew each other well. In a handshake deal, Ogle wrote the couple a check.

The Siglers started repaying Ogle $1,000 a month. A year or so later, Ogle approached them in an attempt to get the money back. But they asked for more. They told Ogle that the quarter million wasn’t enough and that they needed another $50,000. The Siglers later cashed a check for $450,000 that they said in court was a gift.

But Ogle hadn’t written it. The state later presented evidence that it was Carla Sigler who wrote the check even though Ogle signed it.

That’s according to Beth Goldstein, an attorney with the state’s Office of Public Advocacy.

“So when it comes down to it, what we learned throughout this lawsuit was that these individuals, the Siglers. . .they took 63% of all of the assets that Neva had on hand, not counting her house,” Goldstein said.

Shortly after receiving the second check, the Siglers moved from Yakutat to Bosque County, Texas, where they purchased a five-bedroom house with a swimming pool — all with Ogle’s money.

Carla Sigler was elected Bosque County Treasurer in 2016. She was removed from office this year after a jury found she hadn’t completed the required continuing education for her position, according to the Clifton Record, a newspaper in Bosque County.

Goldstein says the couple had made Ogle many promises.

“They would pay her back when they sold the auto business,” Goldstein said. “They’d pay her back when they sold – they had a house in Fairbanks, they had a house in Yakutat. Neva received no funds from any of the sales of these things.”

When Ogle was 88 — about a year later — she went to the local police in Yakutat who recorded her. She told officers that the checks were loans that she wanted to get paid back. She wanted her heirs to have something when she was gone.

Goldstein says this police recording was vital to the case.

“The Yakutat Police Department was instrumental in finding this recording,” she said. “And even though none of the officers were currently with the department anymore, they did come back and testify for us. And they were fantastic.”

The police told Ogle to get something in writing. So she went to the couple –  who happened to be in Yakutat at the time – and Carla Sigler drafted an agreement, which Ogle signed. That was April of 2014. The agreement had no minimum payments and forgave the debt upon death.

“And it was completely in Carla’s favor, completely contrary to what we heard Neva wanted in the tape,” Goldstein said.

Months later, when the couple moved to Texas, Ogle went to an attorney and filed a lawsuit. She’d been forced to sell her home and move into an assisted living facility after she had spent much of her remaining savings on living expenses.

The State of Alaska got involved when, in 2016, a bank notified them that Ogle was giving money to a scammer. State attorneys filed for a conservatorship to, if nothing else, to stop the bleeding.

Shortly afterward, the state found out about her private lawsuit and offered to step in as the plaintiff.

The state filed civil elder fraud charges against the Siglers. A five-day bench trial was held in March and Juneau Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally entered a final judgment against the couple on Nov. 13. They were ordered to pay back Ogle’s $700,000 loan with interest and pay $450,000 in punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees. All told, the judgment totals $1,473,238.

Ogle died in 2020 while the case was still pending. Her heirs are expected to get about a $1 million of the judgment.

The couple has never admitted to any wrongdoing, according to court documents.

Goldstein says the case is not uncommon.

“We see cases all the time like this,” she said. “A lot of times it’s family members getting the elder to sign something, a quit claim deed or a power of attorney, or just, you know, loaning money under the parameters where, they’re never going to get paid back. . . ever.”

She says it’s important for seniors and the people who care for them to learn to recognize the signs of fraud.

Here is a video training about identifying elder fraud conducted by Beth Goldstein (Deputy Director/Supervising Attorney, Alaska Office of Public Advocacy, Elder Fraud & Assistance and Public Guardian Units).