SANTA BARBARA — Following just two hours of jury deliberation, Denise D’Sant Angelo was convicted in superior court last week on felony charges of fraud and embezzlement involving misappropriation of $2,800 from three local area Catholic nuns.
It all began three years ago when the archdiocese of Los Angeles sought the eviction of three nuns from their Santa Barbara convent. Local residents immediately sought to find alternative housing for the women through a quickly-formed nonprofit enterprise identified as Save Our Sisters. D’Sant Angelo is alleged to have stepped in and assumed leadership over the initial fundraising efforts, but within a two-month period had used, without knowledge of any other Save Our Sisters members, $2,800 in charitable funds on personal expenses like gas, restaurants and miscellaneous transactions.
During the trial, D’Sant Angelo, 55, testified that she had, in fact, used those funds as part of additional fundraising efforts, including the process of securing nonprofit tax status for Save Our Sisters. Prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota noted, however, that bank records established cash deposits of $2,800 into the defendant’s personal checking account, promptly followed by withdrawals of nearly half those funds in the exact amount of her personal office rent falling due.
“Defendants who take the stand and fail to tell the truth in front of a jury are rarely believed,” Cota said.
The transcript dating back to D’Sant Angelo’s Superior Court preliminary hearing indicates that she brought $2,900 in cash to the court, claiming those were the funds in question. During trial, however, Cota established that $2,000 had been withdrawn from the defendant’s checking account just hours before that preliminary hearing. D’Sant Angelo’s explanation that she was “just holding” the funds “in a safe location” did not ring true to the jury, however, and she was found guilty of fraud and embezzlement.
No stranger to the legal system, D’Sant Angelo is currently defending herself on other small claims, eviction actions and civil suits totaling nearly $150,000, and faces indictment on other allegations of financial elder abuse and fraud.
With sentencing scheduled for April 22, D’Sant Angelo faces a three-year prison term under the terms of today’s conviction.