Meridian woman stole $130,000. Her victim’s daughter still wishes her the best.

Bernice Rangel
Bernice Rangel

At her mother’s funeral three years ago, Judy Appleby got up and publicly thanked caregiver Bernice Rangel “for being consistent and loyal” to her parents, Connie and John Clark of Eagle. She praised the Meridian woman for her hard work in carrying out housekeeping chores and running errands.

“My parents really liked Bernice a lot,” Appleby said this week.

And even after she discovered Rangel stole $130,481 from John Clark following Connie’s death, Appleby had caring words at Rangel’s Wednesday sentencing.

“Bernice, I wish you all the best,” Appleby said. “I hope you will rebuild your life and make future choices that are better.”

Rangel, 42, was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay back the money she stole. She had faced up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty earlier this year to felony exploitation of a vulnerable person.

Fourth District Judge Richard Greenwood said he typically sentences those convicted of similar crimes to a year in jail. Having Rangel pay back the money she stole was such an important consideration that he cut the sentence in half. Still, it was twice the jail time that prosecutors had sought.

Greenwood said Rangel will be released from jail during the days so she can continue to work. He gave her until 5 p.m. on July 5 to report to the Ada County Jail.

Greenwood also issued a withheld judgment, which will allow Rangel to have the conviction wiped from her record if she pays back the money and successfully completes the other terms of her sentence, including 10 years of probation. She didn’t have a previous criminal conviction.

Defense attorney Alexander Briggs portrayed his client as an unsophisticated woman who didn’t graduate from high school. He acknowledged that Rangel “made a severe error in judgment,” but said John Clark, now 79 and suffering from dementia, provided her with additional money over what she earned because he was “kindhearted” and wanted to help her out.

Rangel told Greenwood she took responsibility for what she did and promised to pay back the money.

“Looking back, I wish I hadn’t accepted anything extra,” Rangel said.

But Greenwood told Rangel she failed to acknowledge the full extent of her illegal acts.

“Your conduct here is more than just, ‘oh, gee whiz, he offered me help I shouldn’t have taken,’” Greenwood said. “I am troubled by the fact that you are still attempting to justify it and pass it off as a mistake in judgment. It’s more than that. There’s an element of moral turpitude.”

Besides having Clark write her checks for money above what she earned, Rangel used Clark’s credit cards to pay her bills to Sprint, Idaho Power and other service providers. She also took $1,700 from Clark to pay expenses for two of her daughters to compete on a fast-pitch softball traveling team.

Rangel hid some of her thefts by misrepresenting entries in Clark’s check register. One $700 softball check was noted in the register as a $437 payment to Idaho Power, Appleby said.

Clark had to cash in a number of his stocks to pay for living expenses as Rangel was stealing from him. Prosecutors highlighted a portfolio of stocks he sold for $300 a share; if Clark had held on to them, they would have been worth $1,001 per share on Thursday.

Taylor Stellmon, a deputy Ada County prosecutor, said Rangel was so brazen, she warned Appleby that other people were taking advantage of John Clark’s vulnerability and generosity at the same time she was stealing from him.

“She preyed on him just as any common thief preys upon his victims,” Stellmon said.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell