‘Sweatheart Swindler" pleads guitly
MINDEN – The 23-year-old Sacramento woman known as the “Sweetheart Swindler” pleaded guilty Tuesday.
On the day her jury trial was set to begin, Margaret Venus Loeo appeared before Michael Gibbons in Douglas County District Court, pleading guilty to obtaining money under false pretenses from a victim over 65 years of age, a felony.
Because the crime was committed against a person over 65, the potential prison sentence she faces – one to six years – will be automatically doubled. She also could be ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and whatever restitution is deemed necessary by the judge. However, probation is an option.
As part of the negotiation allowing her to plead before the trial, Loeo paid $10,000 in restitution to the victim Tuesday. Deputy District Attorney Alan Buttell described it as a “good faith gesture to the defendant that all the restitution will be paid.”
The remainder of the restitution will be determined at an Oct. 5 sentencing.
Another part of the negotiation is that Buttell will not be permitted to make a sentencing recommendation at that time. The Nevada Division of Parole and Probation, Loeo’s attorneys and possibly the victim, 82-year-old Anthony Brusca of Stateline, will be able to make sentencing recommendations.
The charge Loeo pleaded to was not reduced through plea negotiations, despite the defense’s argument at a Monday hearing that she be treated the same as her two codefendants, who have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.
Loeo and Diane and Steve Yonko swindled Brusca’s life savings, nearly $250,000, between October 1994 and February 1995. As part of the Yonkos’ plea agreement, they paid Brusca $110,000 in restitution and agreed to pay $25,000 more within two years. Their jail sentence was deferred for two years to allow them to make restitution.
In pleading guilty, Loeo said she had participated in the crimes because her life and the lives of her family were threatened by the Yonkos. She said she did not receive any of the money.
Buttell and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Tim Minister said after the hearing that they was satisfied with the results.
“She received today everything that would have come out of a jury trial,” Minister said.
“I think that any time someone stands up and admits their complicity, an honorable deed has been done,” Buttell said. “She certainly has some restitution to make, but she owed the (victim) a guilty plea. She owes the restitution. She owes him a lot. But, I do commend her for coming forward with the guilty plea.”
Loeo’s defense attorneys, Robert Bruce Lindsay and William Routsis of the Laub and Laub Law Firm, said it was a difficult decision to advise Loeo to plead guilty rather than taking the case to trial.
“This is one of the ones I’ll do a lot of second guessing on,” Lindsay said after the hearing.
Lindsay said a “duress defense” would have been used, meaning she would admit to what happened, but it would be up to the jury to decide if she had acted with criminal intentions or because she was being forced.
Routsis described her as a “pawn for the major players,” but said if she was convicted after a jury trial, the likelihood of her spending time in prison would be greater than if she admitted to the allegations.
“We felt it was the best call to keep this young lady out of prison,” he said after the hearing.
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