In a scheme that bilked an elderly man out of over a quarter million dollars, a Broward jury found Matthew Stevens not guilty of the crime after deliberating for only a little more than five hours. This was Stevens’ second trial for the crime, the first one resulting in a hung jury.
But here’s the rub. Gina Stevens, the defendant’s common law wife under their shared Gypsy culture tradition who had three children with the defendant did not fare as well as her husband, once he was acquitted of the crime. They were both charged with grand theft but Mrs. Steven’s had no deal in place for testifying against her husband.
Broward Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy sentenced Gina Stevens to 56 months in prison with 627 days credit for time served. She also ordered her to pay restitution of the $270,000 that was fleeced from the elderly victim.
The jury concluded that the victim, Charles Haas, a 91 year old World War II veteran from Hollywood was conned into giving the money to Mrs. Stevens under false pretenses. However, they apparently didn’t believe that her husband was the mastermind of the plot.
According to the prosecution as well as Mrs. Stevens’ testimony, her husband was the architect of the scam.
Gina befriended Haas in 2012, telling him she was a single mother of three who was recently widowed when her husband was killed in a car accident in Michigan. She claimed her name was Tiffany Williams. She told him she owned property in Chicago which was under government liens. Haas agreed to give her the money to pay off the holds on the property and testified in court that he expected to have the money returned to him after she sold the real estate.
Haas also testified that he previously helped secure an apartment for “Tiffany” in 2013 because she led him to believe that her landlord was increasing her rent by one hundred percent. He also bought her clothing and jewelry. It was around that time that he was introduced to Matthew Stevens who she deceptively told him was her cousin, also convincing him that he was gay.
As it turned out, the property in Chicago never existed; as was emphasized by the prosecution in their closing arguments, also declaring that Mrs. Stevens separated Haas from his entire life savings in the amount of approximately $280,000. The entire time period that all these events transpired was under four months.
But Mr. Steven’s defense lawyer told the jury that the facts showed that the prosecution had failed to prove a crime was even committed. He pointed out that Haas was of sound mind and body when he “lent” the money to his client’s wife, pointing out that he had no history of diminished mental capacity or dementia, and furnished the money eagerly, believing his generosity was advancing a romance with a younger woman. It was summed up by the defense as “a loan that didn’t work out”. He also went on to say that even if the jury concluded a crime was committed there was no proof that Mr. Stevens was aware of his wife’s actions and that the proceeds were given to Mrs. Steven’s mother and sister and not Mr. Stevens, according to his defense attorney.
The prosecutor responded to the defense attorney’s assertion by proclaiming to the jury “If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn… or a property in Chicago.”
In the end, the jury did believe a crime was perpetrated but could not connect the dots to convict Mr. Stevens of any wrongdoing for the second time. During the first trial he testified that he didn’t even know how much money his wife received from the victim.
But Mrs. Steven’s testimony/confession sealed her fate.
The money hasn’t been recovered and Haas doesn’t expect he’ll ever see the restitution ordered by the judge. When he took the stand he told the court that Gina Stevens ruined him financially and is bitter that Mr. Steven’s was not convicted the first time. His final beseeching words after the hearing were “I’m broke. I’m living in poverty… So how do I get welfare?” Haas’ daughter Mona was quoted as saying “People have to be vigilant… They can’t be so trusting.”