A jury Monday found a former Woodland fire chief and his wife guilty of bilking a vulnerable acquaintance out of nearly $24,000 in a scam that involved a supposedly ill cat and a stymied run for city council.
Tony and Shari Brentin were found guilty of first-degree theft in Cowlitz County Superior Court for defrauding Suzanne Taylor Moore Faveluke, 75, out of the money during the latter months of 2011. Authorities say the couple told Faveluke the money would be used to pay mounting veterinary bills for their sick cat, Mr. Sox, and for Tony Brentin's campaign for Woodland City Council.
Instead, the money was used to pay rent and other bills, authorities said.
The couple could face up to 10 years in prison for the deception. The jury concluded that Faveluke's vulnerability played a substantial factor in the Brentins' committing the crime.
Deputy Prosecutor James Smith said he had not made a decision on a recommended sentence. Sentencing will take place April 18.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that the Brentins' money woes led the couple to make up stories and seek out money from Faveluke, an acquaintance who was known in Woodland for donating money to various causes.
In 2011, prosecutors say Shari Brentin, 48, approached Faveluke and said she needed thousands of dollars to pay a veterinarian who only accepted cash so he would provide cancer treatment for her cat. Prosecutors say the cat never had cancer.
Prosecutors say Tony Brentin asked the woman for money for his City Council race, which he lost to Marshall Allen.
At around the same time, a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge ordered Tony Brentin to reimburse an Oregon couple, Brandan and Shana Stroh, for unpaid rent, utilities and other costs. Tony Brentin erased the debt by writing a check for more than $4,800, nearly the exact amount Faveluke gave him.
A bank manager eventually alerted police after she became suspicious of Faveluke withdrawing more than $10,000 from her account.
In court, neither side disputed that the money went toward bills.
"Brentin's version was that there was no deception, and it was all above board," Smith said.
Tony Brentin, 52, said Faveluke gave the money to him willingly.
He said he did not know about the story concerning the sick cat, however. Shari Brentin did not testify during the trial.
Brentin was the city's fire chief from September 2004 until January 2009.