Hundreds of victims await justice for a massive theft of money from Holy Cross Catholic Church going back more than a decade, and a John’s Island widow and her family await their day in court to hold an Orchid woman responsible for the death of 89-year-old Christopher Ingraham.
But the only 32963 case that seems finally ready for a jury trial this summer involves hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from two John’s Island octogenarians nearly six years ago.
Orchid resident Elizabeth Jewkes Danielsen, who was arrested while sunbathing at her Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club pool in January for the May 2022 vehicular Homicide of John’s Island resident Christopher Ingraham, is now facing two civil lawsuits as well.
The family of Christopher and Frances Ingraham hired attorney Dan Ullian of Gould Cooksey Fennell law firm to sue both Elizabeth Jewkes Danielsen and her husband Paul Danielsen for negligence. Frances Ingraham, who sustained serious injuries when Danielsen’s Mercedes struck the Ingrahams’ Lexus, killing Christopher, is also suing the Danielsens separately from the personal representatives of the estate.
The complaints allege that the Danielsens were out drinking together and, after leaving in separate vehicles, both drove north on A1A through the Town of Indian River Shores in a reckless manner.
Judge Janet Croom in April ordered the parties to file a joint case management plan, but on May 3 Ingraham’s personal representatives reported to the court that they had not yet been able to serve the lawsuit on the Danielsens. Paul Danielsen is an attorney in California. Police say Elizabeth Danielsen’s blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit when her blood was drawn at Lawnwood Hospital.
Elizabeth Danielsen pleaded not guilty in writing on March 20, and defense attorney Andy Metcalf filed a notice with the court that she would be waiving her right to appear in person at pre-trial proceedings. She is out on $150,000 bond with an ankle monitor and she must submit to weekly drug and alcohol testing. She is only permitted to leave the 19th Judicial Circuit for work and medical emergencies.
Assistant State Attorney Bill Long, who recently applied to be appointed to fill a judicial seat but was not selected, is prosecuting this case.
Deborah True, the former Holy Cross Catholic Church administrator accused of using an off-the-books bank account to siphon off about $700,000 in parishioner donations to pay her personal debts, is not going to trial anytime soon. True, 70, is out on $25,000 bond and living in Colorado with her adult son, who she said needs her because he has mental issues. Ahead of a scheduled May 3 docket call, True’s defense attorney filed a motion to continue the case until July 12.
Assistant State Attorney Patrick O’Brien agreed and Judge Robert Meadows granted the continuance.
True is charged with first-degree felony grand theft pursuant to a scheme or course of conduct. Victims number in the hundreds, as detailed in bank records with copies of donation checks and fund transfers from the sale of securities. The losses are likely much greater than the $1.5 million estimated by police – $697,000 which can be shown to have directly benefitted True – but due to bank document retention policies, the oldest records the Vero Beach Police Department could obtain were dated January 2015.
Records show the late Holy Cross priest, Fr. Richard Murphy, set up the secret bank account in 2012 with he and True being the only signatories, but the two transferred from St. Joseph’s Church in Stuart together a quarter century ago as a package deal – 17 years prior to any bank records that still exist. Records show True cleaned out the account in May 2020 and closed it shortly after Murphy’s death. True and Murphy were close friends who traveled and dined together, and True served as the personal representative of Murphy’s estate.
The crimes True is accused of came to light in 2020 after True retired and a new priest and administrator found a bank account that had not been reported to the parish council or to the Diocese of Palm Beach. Bank records show donations were routinely deposited to this account by True, then checks and electronic payments were issued to True or to her creditors.
True was arrested in September and entered a plea of not guilty in October. True told police that Murphy was “generous to a fault” and that he gave her the money over the years to pay her bills.
One very old felony case of theft and exploitation of an elderly John’s Island couple looks as if it may go to trial next month. Sophia Monae Shepherd, also known as Sophia Brown, is one of two home health aides accused of stealing more than a half million dollars from Michelina Martinelli, her late husband Alfred, and the banks at which they had platinum credit cards.
In addition to designer clothing, shoes and electronics, the pair of CNAs allegedly charged a cruise, gambling junkets, cosmetic surgery, a trip to New York with a stay at The Plaza, and the rental of a Rolls Royce through an exotic car service.
In February 2022, co-defendant Chiquita McGee pleaded no contest to her part in the thefts, which police say amounted to more than $300,000, and was sentenced in March 2022 to 12 years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation. McGee did not agree to testify against Shepherd, who is her sister, as part of her plea arrangement. McGee had been out on bond for more than four years.
Shepherd is still out on bond nearly six years after her arrest. The defendants were prosecuted separately from the beginning because each had control of a separate credit card.
Shepherd’s case was scheduled to be heard prior to McGee’s, but Shepherd changed attorneys and was granted extra time to prepare for trial. Should Shepherd decide to take her chances at trial instead of changing her plea, jury selection is scheduled to begin on June 12.