Investigation into alleged La Jolla elder abuse continues

Editor’s Note:

Though the alleged perpetrator has been named in some other news reports,

La Jolla Light

is refraining from using her name unless charges are filed against her.

Robert Stella. Courtesy photos

By Pat Sherman

San Diego Police are continuing to investigate an incidence of alleged elder abuse and extreme animal neglect in La Jolla that surfaced March 7 when the victim’s family contacted local media.

A 58-year-old woman is accused of abusing Robert Stella, a 90-year-old war veteran and retired state department employee she was living with in his home in the 6600 block of Avenida de las Pescas.

Stella’s granddaughter, Emily Criscuolo, said that when the family had Stella removed from his home in February and transferred to a local senior care facility, he was disoriented, malnourished and dehydrated with severe bedsores. They allege the woman routinely tied him to his bed and locked him in his room without food or water.

Stella’s home and yard were piled with trash and hoarded items, and overrun with dogs and cats later removed by animal control officers.

SDPD Media Relations Lt. Kevin Mayer said police are investigating charges of financial abuse and neglect (a form of elder abuse, Mayer confirmed), in addition to animal neglect.

“The suspect is the caregiver and alleged wife of the victim,” Mayer responded, via e-mail. “These cases can be very complicated and take time to investigate. No arrest has been made at this time.  The investigation is continuing.”

Dan DeSousa, a lieutenant with the San Diego County Department of Animal Services, said that on March 2, Stella’s caretakers — including an Arkansas man renting space in the home from the alleged abuser — relinquished five cats and four dogs to animal services, which were in fair condition, with minor medical skin conditions.

The disturbing conditions inside the home of Robert Stella (pictured) at the time he was taken to a residential care facility last month.

Stella’s family contacted animal services again on March 7 to alert them to the conditions in the home, at which time they returned and seized another five cats and four dogs (including a Jack Russell Terrier, Pomeranian, Chihuahua and Manchester Terrier). At that time, animal control discovered and removed a cat from the bathroom that had been dead for days.

DeSousa said charges filed by animal services will likely be animal neglect, a misdemeanor which carries a sentence of a “slap on the wrist” fine to six months in jail. “Animal abuse is deliberate,” and harder to prove, DeSousa said.  “It’s entirely up to the courts what they believe is an appropriate sentence.”

Criscuolo said her grandfather met his alleged abuser in 2001, in an alley behind Stella Maris Academy (operated by Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church), at a time when he was still overcoming the loss of his wife, Maria, who died from breast cancer.

The family says his new suitor moved into the home in 2006, around the same time they allege she took out a $350,000 loan against the house.

Though the family says they believed the woman to be his girlfriend-companion and caretaker, their attorney recently learned of a confidential marriage certificate filed in San Diego County in 2008.



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