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An Orange County real estate consultant who stole $285,000 from Roman Catholic nuns and used it to buy lingerie and lease a sports car was convicted Tuesday of three counts of wire fraud.
After a three-day trial, a federal jury in Santa Ana convicted Linda Rose Gagnon, also known as Linda Gualtieri-Gagnon, 59, of defrauding the U.S. Province of the Religious of Jesus and Mary.
Asst. U.S. Atty. Robert Keenan said Gagnon told the nuns in 2008 that she was an expert in handling short-sale and foreclosure transactions and offered to help them buy a small home in San Diego they were renting for retired sisters in the religious order.
But Gagnon did not use the order’s funds to purchase the retirement home. Instead, she used it to buy lingerie, lease an Audi and pay off debts for her real estate finance company, Rose Enterprise, Inc. according to Keenan.
After only 64 days, Gagnon spent the entire sum — $285,000, he said.
“She paid off $42,000 she borrowed. There was $448 at Chadwick’s of London, an intimate apparel store in San Francisco. Then she went shopping at Nordstroms, visited the nail salon and of course a pet-sitting service…. She also leased an Audi TT sports car,” Keenan said. “She was living nicely on the nuns’ money.”
The nuns, after initially accepting Gagnon’s explanations for delays in the home purchase, realized they had been defrauded when she did not respond to their messages. The order specializes in charitable and educational work.
At one point, Gagnon told the nuns she needed another $285,000 to buy the San Diego residence, saying the original $285,000 was tied up in a “triple escrow” on another property.
Throughout the trial, Gagnon’s lawyer portrayed her as operating a bad business and accidentally comingling the funds. Gagnon did not testify, but two Catholic priests took the witness stand to attest to her character, Keenan said. They assured the court “she is really quite honest,” he added.
At sentencing next February, Gagnon could receive up to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts. Keenan said a more realistic sentence would be about four years total.
Keenan said the nuns eventually had to come up with another $255,000 to buy the home, which is about three miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.