The Family That Preys Together

When Margaret Martin met the Lambard clan at church, little did she know they’d end up nearly draining her life’s savings.

Margaret Martin met Creede and Sharleen Lambard at a Latter Day Saints church in Greenwood in the mid-'90s. Martin felt lonely at the time. Pushing 80, many of her family and friends had died, including a son. Her only relative, a sister, lived several time zones away.The Lambards are software engineers who wrote two books and helped create a role-playing card game baed on an '80s video game called Car Wars. [This sentence has been corrected since its original posting.] With their three children, the couple also organizes and participates in annual "filking" conventions, where participants bring renaissance instruments like mandolins and dulcimers and party in their best sci-fi or fantasy costumes. The family keeps in touch via MySpace accounts, and until a year ago Creede Lambard maintained a blog called Omir the Storyteller, on which he wrote long accounts of family Christmases and time spent with grandkids.The Lambards soon began including Martin in family gatherings. Their daughter, Tina, now 34, asked Martin to be a family grandmother. Martin was "delighted at the request," according to a police report.Over the years she spent with the family, Martin came into quite a bit of money. First she inherited $500,000 when a friend of her mother died; later a home sale brought in another $270,000. Conscious of Martin's affluence, the Lambards started going to her for financial help. Son James Lambard wanted to open a pizzeria in Magnolia, and Martin put up the money for it. Sharon Kingsford, Sharleen's sister, also tapped Martin's largesse.Kingsford works part-time as a children's party performer with her husband, Daniel Willems. His act features characters named Wahoo the Clown, Whifflesnort the Wizard, and Wild Will Hick-Up. Kingsford first got into the clowning business by sewing her husband a 27-and-a-half-foot tie, according to an online profile. She now occasionally joins him as Professor R. Snick, a witch with a talent for fatal potions. The clowns needed cash to remodel their house, so, according to court records, they turned to Martin for money.And it didn't stop there, according to the report: Two more family members, son Michael Lambard and his wife Katie, became co-signers on Martin's bank account, pulling money out for new cars and writing checks worth thousands of dollars to themselves. By the time a call from a car dealership last May led police to start looking at how much money from Martin's bank accounts went to the Lambard family, Martin, now 90, had only about $34,000 left, police say. (Another $50,000 remains in a long-term investment account.) Not a big spender herself, Martin had somehow managed to rack up a $5,000 Visa bill.Martin's is just one case in what state officials say is a rising trend of financial exploitation of the elderly. In 2001, the first year state Adult Protective Services started electronically tracking complaints, the agency received 2,747 such reports. The number has increased every year since, hitting 4,054 complaints in 2007.Protective Services Training Program Manager Carol Sloan says it's hard to pin down exactly why the number jumped so quickly, but two factors have had a big influence. First, more people are reporting possible financial abuse. Sloan says that after seeing the number of cases climb, APS stepped up efforts to alert people to the common signs that someone is taking advantage of the elderly. On top of that, she says, the number of senior citizens in the state is much larger than it used to be. "Because of the increase in the elderly population, I think it's going to be the target of perpetrators," she says.Many of the complaints from the Seattle area end up on the desk of Pamela St. John, a 15-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department who became a cop to work on domestic-violence cases. More than a year ago she started investigating the rising number of reports coming in to the elderly-abuse unit, which is part of SPD's domestic-violence division.When the city established the elderly-abuse unit in 1996, it had only one detective investigating claims. Now St. John is one of four. She and one other detective get all the financial exploitation cases, while a third investigates physical-abuse cases. Another is devoted full-time to complaints at nursing homes."I was always brought up that we're supposed to respect our elders," St. John says. "If you look at history and everything they've done for us, that's the least we can do for them."Martin now lives in the Ida Culver House, a Greenwood retirement complex. Her remaining bank balance will barely cover a year of expenses. Now, with the help of attorney Lawrence Glosser, St. John is trying to get Martin some of her money back.The relationship between Martin and the Lambards first changed to more than family dinners, rides, and hair appointments in 1999, when state assessment records show that Creede and Sharleen bought Martin's Greenwood home. But she didn't have to leave—instead, says Glosser, they signed a "life estate" agreement. Under the terms of the deal, the Lambards got the title to the 830-square-foot house for $145,000, but Martin would be allowed to live rent-free in the house until her death. Martin and the Lambards also agreed to have their adult daughter Tina move in to act as Martin's driver.The Lambards owed monthly payments of $600 on the house. But after a few months, Glosser says, they stopped paying Martin. Around that time, other Lambard relatives allegedly began dipping into Martin's coffers. In court records, Martin says that beginning in 2004 she wrote checks totaling $70,000 to James Lambard, who used the money to open an Amante Pizza and Pasta franchise in Magnolia. Martin claims this was a loan and James never repaid her. With Glosser's help, Martin sued last May in an attempt to get her money back.James Lambard and his attorney declined to comment for this story, but in court records James says Martin gave him $20,000 to get started. Later, he says, she wrote two more checks totaling $18,000 to cover additional expenses—but the total never got to $70,000, as Martin claims. James states he understood the $18,000 was a loan, but then he found himself in a custody battle, unable to run the restaurant and keep up with its expenses. He eventually sold the franchise, took a job at Pronto Pizza and Pasta in Magnolia, and moved in with his parents. James claims that in light of his troubles, Martin agreed to forgive the loan.Martin also says in court records that she loaned Kingsford and Willems about $20,000 for home repairs in 2005 and 2006. The part-time clowns failed to pay her back, and Martin sued them in May. Neither Kingsford nor Willems responded to phone messages left at their home, where an answering machine greets callers to "the home of Daniel, Sharon, Wifflesnort the Wizard, and Wahoo the Clown (honk, honk!)." Kingsford's attorney also did not respond to messages, and they have not filed a response to the lawsuit with the court.Tina Lambard, the daughter living with Martin, collapsed during the summer of 2007. According to a report, Martin told police she thought it was a suicide attempt or a drug overdose. Either way, she wanted Tina out. That's when Katie Lambard approached Martin, offering to help her extricate herself from Katie's in-laws and get her money back.Martin had already started looking at options for regaining ownership of her home. An estate planner suggested hiring a lawyer to nullify the sale, and Katie offered to drive Martin to meet attorney Glosser. With his help, Martin reacquired the title to her home in November 2007. But even with that issue resolved, Katie stuck around, helping Martin with other things, such as driving her to the hair salon or doctor's appointments.Katie also helped Martin sue Katie's in-laws. In May 2008, she took Martin back to Glosser, who normally handles real-estate issues. Nevertheless, he agreed to represent her in a suit against Kingsford, Willems, and James Lambard, in which Martin is seeking to recoup the money she says she lent them.But the biggest portion of Martin's money didn't end up with those three, according to police: Katie allegedly convinced Martin to transfer most of her banking from KeyBank to the Watermark Credit Union, where Katie's husband Michael worked. Martin opened the accounts jointly with Katie and Michael, giving the pair the ability to write checks and withdraw money without Martin's permission.In February 2008, according to county records, Martin sold her house again, this time for $306,000, to someone outside the Lambard circle. According to the police report, Martin walked away from the sale with $270,000 after closing costs, which she deposited at Watermark in March; Katie and Michael had access to the money, and soon started spending it. Checks ranging from $300 to $11,000 were made out to Katie several times a month, and all of Martin's bank statements went to Katie.Martin knew about some of the money going out. Late last year, Martin agreed to buy Katie a van, according to the police report. A few months later, Katie traded it in for a nicer model. Martin picked up the tab for additional costs, and later told police the vehicle seemed like reasonable compensation for Katie's help.Then in May of this year, Katie bought her husband a new $41,000 Toyota Camry at Toyota of Lake City. The pair wrote a letter to Martin, agreeing to pay $200 a month with no interest until the car was paid off.A few months earlier, Katie had met 27-year-old Blair Boykin, a barista at Chicka Latte, an espresso stand on Holman Road Northwest, where employees dress in racy ensembles like "sexy referee" and "sexy cop." Katie started coming regularly to pick up a Snickers mocha, sometimes stopping by as often as five times a day, Boykin says. Once in a while Martin came too, getting the same drink as Katie."Katie was a friend—at least I thought she was my friend," Boykin says over coffee at a Lake City Starbucks. "She is really easy to talk to."As their relationship blossomed, Boykin and Katie shared personal stories. Boykin says Katie complained about insulting MySpace messages from her husband's siblings, who Katie said harbored resentment because Martin was generous with her and not the rest of them.A few things about Katie made Boykin uncomfortable. For one, she would flash around the money she said Martin gave her, occasionally leaving $100 bills in Boykin's tip jar. (Boykin says she made Katie take the money back.) But other than that, Katie seemed a good friend who cared about Martin.At the time the women met, Boykin was driving a car provided by her employer, who took it back from her in May. Boykin then complained to Katie that this decision left her without transportation. The next day, Katie came back to the store."She was like, 'Margaret really wants to help you,'" Boykin says.Katie then took Boykin back to Toyota of Lake City, where just the day before she'd purchased the aforementioned Camry. Boykin picked out a 2008 Scion XB with a $23,428.79 price tag. That purchase would eventually launch the police investigation into Katie and Michael Lambard. When Katie returned a day after buying the Camry to purchase a second car with Martin's money, a manager got suspicious. The dealer wouldn't allow the second sale and asked that she return the Camry, which she did. But Toyota of Seattle, an unaffiliated Denny Regrade dealership, willingly sold Katie both cars a few days later.Martin wanted Boykin to sign a letter promising to write her a monthly check for $1,000 to pay off the car. Boykin says that even without interest, she couldn't afford that; as a barista, she sometimes only took home about that much in a month. Boykin nearly backed out, telling Katie she could just give the car back. But Katie assured her she could just pay whatever she could, says Boykin, who estimates she put about $4,000 toward the car, but never managed to hit the $1,000 mark in a single month.Looking back, Boykin thinks she should have been more suspicious, and admits to visions of the whole thing ending up on a court TV show, like Judge Judy. But at the same time, she needed a car, and Katie offered a chance for a nice new one, without having to take out a loan with interest."I've had a lot of bad luck in my life," says Boykin. "And I thought this was a turnaround."Attorney Rick Ockerman spends much of his time suing shady car dealers for taking advantage of customers. In 1992, he spoke to a group of dealers about how to keep their sales kosher. After this talk, Maria Smith, who owns four Puget Sound dealerships (Toyota of Lake City, Kirkland Automotive, and two others in Bellevue), asked Ockerman for advice on keeping her stores out of trouble, eventually asking him to represent the company."She's really very insistent on honesty and integrity within her dealerships," Ockerman says of Smith.Car dealerships, he explains, are one of the businesses in which financial exploitation becomes obvious. As legal counsel to Smith's stores, he trains the staff to spot red flags: a customer purchasing several cars at once, titles going to someone other than the person writing the check, or "caregiver" listed as someone's employment.When Katie visited Toyota of Lake City on back-to-back days to purchase two cars, the dealership's alarms went off. A desk manager saw the deal, became concerned, and called his supervisor—who then called Ockerman. The attorney said at the time that "this looks to me like [Katie] is taking advantage of [Martin]."Legally the dealership could make the sales, Ockerman says, but due to discomfort with the deal, a manager called Katie and asked her to bring the cars back. When she obliged, the dealership returned the money to Martin. Ockerman then called Washington State Adult Protective Services."The fact that they were willing to forgo the profit from the deal, particularly in tough market times, is very remarkable," he says. "It makes me very proud to be their attorney."Per agency protocol, Adult Protective Services shared Ockerman's report with SPD detective St. John. Tall but unimposing, with her red hair cut into a layered bob, St. John doesn't immediately come off as a cop. Meeting in a conference room at SPD headquarters, she wears a plaid vest and a blouse, and the braces on her teeth make her seem even more approachable. Of course, when she stands, there's the gun holstered on her hip, reminding you of her profession.There are about 90 open cases like Martin's in St. John and her partner's dossier. In many instances, the victims suffer from memory loss or dementia; one woman St. John worked with asked repeatedly in an interview where she was. Boykin claims Martin seemed to be lucid, but St. John says appearing competent doesn't mean someone isn't vulnerable to predators—being dependent on others for anything means they can potentially take advantage of you.Martin, for instance, relied on the Lambards to get around the city. And the slight memory loss that comes with age made it difficult for Martin to track her finances. "They don't have to be so demented [to be at risk]," St. John says. "We have people every day who on the surface appear to be functioning fine, but they're really not."In 2007, Adult Protective Services received more than 13,500 complaints. Financial-fraud cases like Martin's made up the biggest portion: 4,054 that year. More vicious kinds of abuse—physical and sexual, for instance—made up fewer than 2,000 of the reports.St. John says cases like Martin's aren't as straightforward as crimes where guilt can be proven through eyewitness interviews and fingerprint matches. Establishing a financial crime requires combing through piles of bank statements and receipts to show a pattern of fraud. Further complicating matters, it's legal for an elderly person to open a joint account with caregivers—and it's even legal for those caregivers to write themselves checks or make purchases as part of someone's care.What isn't legal, St. John says, is caregivers spending that money on themselves. Under state law, money should only be spent on the needs of the person you're taking care of, like groceries or a trip to the doctor. "I don't understand why an elderly woman who can't drive needs three cars," St. John says, referring to the Lambards' zeal for automotive purchases.When the detective first visited Martin to ask about the purchases, she insisted Katie Lambard would never steal her money and had her permission to use it. That's not uncommon, St. John says: Victims become dependent on the people they believe are taking care of them, and caretakers often convince them no one else cares. St. John wrote in a report that on most of her visits, she found Martin listening to the radio alone, and that many of her boxes from her move to Ida Culver remained unpacked."It's pretty common to have an 'I'm the only person who can help you' kind of a deal," St. John says. "And then there's that whole fear: what happens if [Martin] said no."St. John characterizes Martin's situation as one of "undue influence." The term is significant because under the 1984 state Vulnerable Adult Act, simple awareness by an elderly person that someone with power of attorney or control of their finances is spending their money isn't enough to make it legal. In this case, St. John thinks Martin felt obligated to let Katie and Michael Lambard access her money and purchase expensive cars so they would keep driving her throughout the city. St. John had to explain to her that Ida Culver House has a bus service that could get her around for appointments and errands.Ida Culver, where Margaret lives, is part of a regional chain of retirement homes owned by Era Living. Era Vice President Gina Owens says she can't comment on the specifics of Martin's situation, but says that her staff is trained to look for signs of abuse or exploitation, which they're required by law to report to Adult Protective Services.Despite signing off on some of the major purchases, Martin still had no idea how much money Katie and Michael Lambard took, St. John says. The detective got permission to access Martin's bank records. Police aren't disclosing how much Martin had altogether at the beginning of this year, but when she closed the sale of her house this past March, she deposited $270,000. By July, the balance in her accounts had dropped to just over $34,000. Upon hearing how much money she had left, "[Martin] looked down at her lap and began to cry," St. John wrote in a report.On October 29, police arrested Katie and Michael Lambard. Neither has a prior record, and the two are being permitted to maintain their freedom while the King County Prosecutor's Office decides whether or not to file charges. (Spokesman Dan Donohoe says the office is reviewing the file and expects to make a decision later this month.)St. John says the things that make investigating a financial crime like this more complicated also put the prosecutor in a difficult position. After making the arrests, St. John forwarded to the prosecutor's office a thick file of bank records and check stubs that personnel must comb through to determine whether or not they can prove Katie and Michael Lambard broke the law.The same day she arrested the Lambards, St. John went to Boykin's apartment. Boykin told St. John her boyfriend had taken the Scion to get coffee. "I got really scared," says Boykin, who assured St. John she would return the car the next day. St. John declined to arrest her on that condition, and Boykin made good on her promise. Boykin is still named as a defendant in Martin's suit against Katie and Michael Lambard.Despite being out the $4,000 she originally put toward the car, Boykin never told anyone in her family what happened. "It's embarrassing," she says.While the criminal case awaits the prosecutor's decision, the civil suits against the Lambard family members are still winding through the early stages of the legal process. This fall Glosser filed suit on Martin's behalf against Katie and Michael Lambard as well. "It seemed the people [Martin] was relying on were the people taking advantage of her," Glosser says.Katie Lambard did not respond to requests for comment following her arrest, but filed a response in court to the civil suit against her, saying any obligation to pay back money from Martin "was made legally impossible by Martin's subsequent actions." (Representing herself, Katie doesn't clarify what those actions were.)Glosser and St. John (whom Glosser calls "an inspiration") are also trying to retrieve some of the money that went to the Lambards, starting with the cars. To that end, St. John says Toyota of Seattle agreed to buy back the cars at market value.St. John's investigation is ongoing. But when it's over, there's always another case waiting. St. John says the worst part is the betrayal. When someone takes advantage of the elderly, she says, "It just breaks my heart."lonstot@seattleweekly.com

 
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