Payback Time

Nancy Etta Elliston, the longtime leader of Arizona's private fiduciary industry, was sentenced Friday afternoon to six years in prison for stealing money from clients over a period of several years.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Louis Araneta ordered the 50-year-old Glendale resident to report immediately to the state prison in Perryville, where she'll be spending at least the next five years.

A New Times investigation last year ("Nancy Drew," January 20, 2000, and "Checks & Imbalances," June 15, 2000) described how Elliston had pillaged the estates of vulnerable adults and, in a few cases, the assets of youngsters that Probate Court judges and commissioners had entrusted to her. A grand jury indictment against Elliston named 10 alleged victims, most of whom have died, though prosecutors and other authorities have said many more people fell prey to her chicanery.

Court documents indicate Elliston stole more than $400,000 from her victims. However, all but a few of the estates have been replenished by bonding companies, which insure against theft and other wrongdoing.

At the sentencing, Araneta heard from several people, including Paul Harter, an attorney for Southwest Fiduciary, a firm that has taken over many of Elliston's cases. Harter showed the judge a small box wrapped in brown paper, saying it held the cremated remains of Juanita Dallanbach, a woman who had left Elliston an estate valued "in the six figures."

Harter explained that authorities had found the woman's remains, as well as those of several other people, during a search of Elliston's home and office. "When [Elliston] had no further use for [Dallanbach], she went on a shelf. I would suggest that Ms. Elliston is a person of bad character."

Prosecutor Ted Duffy concurred, suggesting, "What we have here is a person who is a predator, and a predator solely for greed."

Even Elliston's own attorney, Craig Mehrens, had unkind words for her -- though he asked Araneta to impose the minimum sentence of two years. "Nancy should go to prison because of the money she took, and because of her breach of the public trust."

Elliston told the judge she'd provided excellent physical and emotional care to her many clients: "And that's how I rationalized what I did. I don't think that any of the victims, other than financially, were hurt."

Araneta didn't buy it, and sentenced Elliston to an aggravated term, of which she'll have to serve more than five years.

"I cannot and will not ignore the amount of monies that were, in fact, taken," the judge said.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin