Mountain View Voice

News - December 2, 2011

Property manager charged with grand theft

Mountain View senior claims mismanagement nearly led to foreclosures

by Daniel DeBolt

Editor's note:

The case against Grace Morioka was dismissed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office in April 2013 for insufficient evidence.

"We actually subpoenaed about two business boxes full of (financial) documents," said Deputy District Attorney Janet Berry. The district attorney's forensic accountant went through everything, she said. "We came to the conclusion that we could not sustain our burden of proof. Let me tell you, that is a tough conclusion to come to in a case."

"I have no comment to make on her innocence or lack thereof," Berry said.

"Sometimes we have to dismiss, and it's always hard, but if thatís what the truth calls for, then thatís what we do."

Morioka's public defender in the case, Enrique Colin, was not available for comment. Morioka declined to comment and referred the Voice to her personal attorney, David Marks. He said he was familiar with the case even though he did not represent Morioka in it. A civil attorney, he said he has helped Morioka with her business for years.

"I will say it's taken way too long and has caused Grace too much pain for something she never did," Marks said. "I can say without hesitation she is an ethical, reputable and professional person."

Police have arrested a Sunnyvale woman after she allegedly bilked an 86-year-old Mountain View woman of more than $50,000 while managing her properties.

Grace Morioka, 50, was arrested after turning herself in to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's office on Oct. 28 and was charged with grand theft and theft against an elder, said Detective Barry Barner of the San Jose police department's financial crimes department. She was released on $200,000 bail.

While she was acting as property manager and Realtor for Mary Imai, Morioka allegedly skimmed rent, overcharged for maintenance costs and failed to pay homeowners association dues for properties owned by Imai in Mountain View's Ada Park and Camellia Park neighborhoods. According to police, properties were nearly sold at auction several times, a police report says. Police say Morioka also showed phony records to the victim to cover up the losses.

Imai said she learned of the problems in 2007 when her handyman told her that one of her homes at Mountain View's Ada Park was two days away from a foreclosure auction. She learned that liens had been placed on her properties for delinquent homeowners association dues, costing $28,000 to remove including penalties and attorney fees. One home had nearly been foreclosed on at least three times. "Morioka would present a check at the last minute for the delinquent homeowner's fees," the police report said.

In all, Imai estimates that Morioka cost her $80,000 while managing her properties from 1991 until 2007, according to her statement to police. In the last four years Morioka managed her properties, police say Imai's accountant found that Morioka reported $701,576 in rental income to the victim, but deposited only $663,431 into the bank account for the properties. Morioka was also allegedly charging more rent than she reported to the victim for some properties. Imai claims that Morioka refuses her lawyer's requests to provide all records of her services, which Morioka denies.

In her statement to police, Imai explained that she had signed power of attorney to Morioka for her property matters. "I signed it without reading it," she said. "I didn't know the power it would give her. I had a lot going on with my sick husband and I thought she was helping me."

So far no significant assets belonging to Morioka have been found that could provide some restitution, though authorities continue to look.

Morioka declined to comment for the story, referring the request to her lawyer, Diane de Sev, who said "We are not going to try her case in the press. We are confident she will be exonerated in the end." In her statement to police, Morioka claims she didn't charge the widow for her services after the first two years. She says that any excess rent she collected should be in a bank account for the properties. She blames the unpaid HOA dues on an employee who worked for her briefly and failed to set up automatic payments.

In an unusual twist, an advertisement seeking donations for Morioka's legal defense appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Nichi Bei, a San Francisco-based weekly newspaper, titled "Grace Morioka needs your help." The ad casts Morioka as a "small business owner" facing criminal charges based on allegations made by "multi-millionaire Mary Imai." It provides an email address for those wishing to help Morioka through what it says will be "very long and expensive ordeal" in court.

Morioka continues to advertise her services and post in real estate forums, but her real estate license is listed as "restricted" on the California Department of Real Estate website, which means she now has a probationary license. That could change, depending on the outcome of her case.

The case apparently had trouble finding a champion among officials, as it went from Mountain View Police to the FBI, to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office and finally to the police department in San Jose, where Morioka has an office. "I was tired of the victims getting the run-around ...so I took it," Barner said in an email.

The case was brought to the attention of authorities by George Markle, a former board president of Mountain View's Camellia Park Homeowners Association. The association was managed by Morioka before a falling out, Markle says. While he says Camellia Park's board did not find it worthwhile to sue Morioka, she has been named as a defendant in lawsuits over her property management services by HOAs in Palo Alto and Cupertino, according to court records.

Pressure from Markle and others "was the driving force behind getting this filed," said Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourlard. She said that authorities were "thankful" for Markle and others who helped gather evidence that aided the police investigation.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Marie, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 8, 2011 at 9:17 am

Thank you for running this story - please stay on top of any developments, and keep us informed. Bilking people out of their money is a very serious, disgusting, CRIME. Seniors, the disabled, or others who are especially vulnerable need to be protected from preditors of all sorts. IF this woman is quilty, she should go to prison. I wonder if the San Jose prosecutors would want to hear from others who think this woman may have bilked them, or their associations, and provide that information? How sad that this case got passed around, and perhaps dropped due to lack of interest!


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