Crime & Courts

Texas couple ordered to pay nearly $1.5 million for defrauding elderly Yakutat woman

Neva Ogle

A former Alaska school superintendent recently elected as treasurer of her home county in Texas has been ordered to pay what officials here say is the largest judgment awarded in an Alaska elder abuse case.

A Juneau Superior Court judge in mid-November directed Carla Sigler and her husband James Vernon Sigler to pay nearly $1.5 million after the state Office of Public Advocacy found the couple took $700,000 from an elderly Yakutat woman a decade ago.

The judgment came after a trial and more than five years of litigation, said Beth Goldstein, deputy director of the Office of Public Advocacy’s elder fraud and assistance and public guardian units.

Carla Sigler is the treasurer-elect for Bosque County, Texas, where the couple now lives. Sigler had previously served as treasurer until she was removed from the position earlier this year for failing to complete required continuing education.

The year the alleged fraud occurred, 2012, Sigler served as superintendent of the tiny Tanana City School District, which oversees the Maudrey J. Sommer School with 35 to 45 students.

The Siglers could not be reached for comment.

They did not face criminal charges for their actions involving Neva Ogle, the woman they’re accused of defrauding. Goldstein said that officials viewed the civil lawsuit as the fastest way to find a resolution for Ogle.

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Ogle died in 2020 while the case was still unresolved.

The Siglers filed for bankruptcy in 2020 amid the civil court proceedings. The bankruptcy case is ongoing.

The Siglers have appealed the judgment, but the state can continue to take actions to collect payment while the appeal is pending unless a stay is approved or a supersedeas bond is paid, Goldstein said.

The Siglers have not filed for a stay or paid a bond, she said. On average, appeals take two years.

‘She did not want to leave’

The Siglers lived in Yakutat during 2012 and knew Ogle, who was 85 at the time, through family, according to a complaint pertaining to the fraud case filed by an attorney representing Ogle in the Sigler’s bankruptcy proceedings.

The couple asked Ogle to loan them $250,000 so Carla Sigler could buy into her retirement contract and retire early, Goldstein said. The Siglers returned to Ogle the next year and said they needed an additional $50,000, the complaint states, but said she instead wrote them a check for $450,000. Carla Sigler wrote the check and it was signed by Ogle, Goldstein said.

The money was intended to be repaid, but the Siglers argued that it was a gift, Goldstein said.

The couple used a majority of the money to purchase a home in Texas and moved there from Alaska, according to the complaint filed in the bankruptcy. They also made purchases with Alaska Airlines, Glacier Bear Lodge, Geico Insurance, AT&T and Situk River Fly Shop, the complaint said.

The Siglers paid back a small portion of the money, but then stopped making payments in December 2013.

Ogle filed a civil lawsuit against the couple in 2017 accusing them of taking money from her. The elder fraud division became involved after Ogle’s bank notified them she’d fallen victim to an unrelated phone scam, Goldstein said. Ogle was dealing with dementia and she was appointed a conservator by the court to protect her finances from additional fraud, according to Goldstein. The conservator alerted the division to the ongoing lawsuit against the Siglers.

The elder fraud division took over the litigation out of concern that paying for attorneys would drain the remainder of Ogle’s finances, Goldstein said. The money the Siglers took accounted for more than 60% of Ogle’s cash assets. Ogle wanted to age in her Yakutat home and had planned to use that money for her future care, according to Goldstein.

“She loved Yakutat, she loved her home and she did not want to leave,” Goldstein said.

But by the end of 2018, Ogle needed constant care. With the funds gone, she was unable to pay for someone to care for her in her home, Goldstein said. She was put into the Pioneer Home in Sitka, where she died in 2020. By the time she died, Goldstein said, Ogle did not even have enough funds for another year’s care at the home.

‘No remorse’

A bench trial was held in the civil case in March.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally found that the Siglers had defrauded Ogle, according to a final judgment issued Nov. 13. Schally ordered the couple to pay back the $700,000 they took from Ogle, plus another $450,000 in punitive damages. In total, they were ordered to pay $1.47 million, which Goldstein said will be distributed to Ogle’s heirs. The couple was also ordered to pay attorney’s fees for the defendant, she said.

It’s unusual for an elder fraud case to go to trial and rare for punitive damages to be awarded, Goldstein said.

“I’ve been the chief of elder fraud for about a decade, and our cases almost always settle — the family members are remorseful or they realize the risks associated with it,” she said. “And when you’re in settlement negotiations, you can reduce the attorneys’ fees and there’s no punitive damages. But the Siglers showed no remorse here at all.”

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Goldstein said the bankruptcy court could force the Siglers to sell their home to meet the judgment because they testified they bought the house with money from Ogle. She said the state’s likelihood of collecting on the judgment is high.

The attorney representing the Siglers in their bankruptcy proceeding in matters related to the judgment did not return a request for comment.

Treasurer-elect

Carla Sigler came under scrutiny from officials in Bosque County, where she served as treasurer, when the couple filed for bankruptcy in 2020. The treasurer is responsible for the county’s receipt and disbursement of funds and is the chief investment officer, according to the county website.

Sigler was appointed to the position in 2016 and elected to the role in 2019, according to Julie Snyder, an office assistant for the county judge.

Minutes from county commission meetings show that officials were aware in January of the allegations against Carla Sigler in the elder fraud case.

In January, officials voted not to take steps to remove Sigler from office after she failed to meet the required continuing education hours for the treasurer position. A petition to remove her from the seat was filed by a citizen and the case went before a jury in August. The jury found that Carla Sigler failed to complete the hours and she was removed from office.

Carla Sigler ran for county treasurer again and claimed she was endorsed by the Bosque County Republican Party, a claim the party later refuted, saying there was a difference between “support” of a candidate for office and “endorsement,” which requires a formal vote.

Her name was the only one that appeared on the ballot, although the woman who stepped into the treasurer position after Sigler was ousted ran a write-in campaign.

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Local media in Bosque County reported on the allegations against the Siglers in 2021 and followed the case through trial and until the judgment was issued.

The judgment in the elder fraud case does not impact Carla Sigler’s eligibility to hold the treasurer’s position, Snyder said. She declined to comment about whether officials were concerned by the judgment.

Carla Sigler was elected to the position of Bosque County treasurer in November. She will resume the job in early January.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Carla Sigler was endorsed by the Bosque County Republican Party. Party officials say they did not endorse Sigler, which would require a formal vote.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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