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Parole Denied in Elderly Theft Case

24 Mar 2007

By Tracy Breton

Patricia Murtaugh, the former Block Island carrot-cake shop owner who stole most of the life savings of two women in their 90s, has been denied parole by the New York State Division of Parole.

Murtaugh, 59, was sentenced by a Queens, N.Y., judge last September to serve one to three years for stealing more than $245,000 from two New York women for whom she was a helpmate.

The women, retired psychiatrist Elisabeth Shanks and former Navy nurse Joan Coughlan, suffer from memory impairment and live alone and had asked Murtaugh to help them pay their bills. She ended up stealing much of their money. As a result of the thefts, Shanks will soon have to move out of her rent-stabilized apartment over the Hudson River and move into a state-subsidized nursing home.

Murtaugh has made just $5,000 in restitution - $2,500 to each of her victims. It's unlikely she'll pay much more.

The story of Murtaugh's crimes on her two elderly victims was the subject of a Sunday Journal story published Jan. 7.

Murtaugh, who pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny, has been imprisoned since her arrest in May. If she'd been granted parole, she would have been released May 27. She'll now be incarcerated until at least May 27, 2008, and will then be on supervised release through May 2009.

In denying Murtaugh parole, the three commissioners who reviewed her case Wednesday said Murtaugh was not remorseful for her crimes and that they believed she would commit further offenses if granted release now.

"On two separate occasions, you stole money totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from two separate extremely elderly victims, aged 94 and 90, respectively. At interview, you offered little to explain your motivation for this monumental theft of your victims' life savings. Additionally, you displayed little remorse for your victims, only claiming to feel remorse after being prompted.

"Therefore, despite your receipt of an earned eligibility certificate and merit time credit, the panel concludes that if you are released at this time there exists a reasonable probability that you will not live and remain at liberty without further violations of the law. All factors considered, including the multiple victims involved and the particularly vulnerable nature of the victims, your release would not be in the best interests of the community at this time," the commissioners said in their decision, which was released yesterday.Prosecutor Gregory C. Pavlides, who heads the Queens County District Attorney's Economic and Environmental Crimes Bureau, said he sent a letter to the parole commissioners urging them to deny Murtaugh parole.

"If you want to show remorse and regret, pay the money back," Pavlides said. "Unless she can pay back all restitution, she should serve the maximum."

Elisabeth Shanks's son, Jonathan Shanks, who lives in Canada, also wrote a letter asking that parole be denied.

Murtaugh's actions "have caused my mother irreparable harm. They have caused her emotional and physical suffering from which she will never recover," he wrote.

"My mother's condition has deteriorated dramatically since she was victimized. She now requires an attendant be with her 24 hours a day. She cannot move from her bed, even to the bathroom without assistance. Her will to live has also deteriorated. She constantly asks why Murtaugh did this to her."

"Murtaugh took advantage of a vulnerable elderly woman - solely for her own financial gain," the son said. "She also exploited a family connection to gain my mother's trust, something I find almost as reprehensible as the theft itself."

"Murtaugh stole my mother's future and destroyed any chance of my mother enjoying the few remaining years of life she has left. My mother spent her entire life helping others. She worked as a physician long past the retirement age of most of her colleagues. She also planned and saved for her future. Now, her future is bleak."

Copyright 2007. Used with permission from The Providence Journal.

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