By Michael R. Moser
By his own admission, Cumberland Countian Ed Lanquist was too trusting. Yet, he believed he had reasons to trust the person handling a series of real estate transactions that he considered to be an investment. The person fronting the deals to him was licensed by the state to sell real estate, and she was family.
Over several months, however, Lanquist came to realize "it was all a farce," and that his step-granddaughter had made off with $160,000 of his money.
Last week a Cumberland County jury of seven women and five men agreed, and after about 40 minutes of deliberations, convicted Lisa Ann Slaven, 40,249 Gilbert Stephens Rd., Jamestown, of felony theft of more than $60,000.
Slaven will face Criminal Court Judge David Patterson on June 26 at 1 p.m. at which time she will learn if she goes to prison, and if so, for how long.
Lanquist, described by Assistant District Attorney Caroline Knight as being 80 years old and fighting a bout with cancer, told the jury in opening remarks that the victim took out a loan to purchase property known as the Northrup Farm in rural Morgan County as an investment. The idea was to turn around and quickly sell the farm for a profit.
In his remarks to the jury, Assistant Public Defender John Nisbet told the jury that the charge stemmed from nothing more than a family squabble, and questioned whether it was rational to enter such a deal without a written contract.
Lanquist was the first witness to testify, and told how he and his wife, Evelyn, had allowed Evelyn's granddaughter to live with them so she could complete her senior of high school in Cumberland County. "We treated her like one of our own children," Lanquist testified.
In June 2011, Slaven approached Lanquist about investing in a business deal to purchase two properties — one a mobile home in Fentress County and the other in Overton County — and then flip, or sell the property immediately for a profit.
He gave Slaven a check for $45,000 for the two mobile homes to only later find out that one might not have existed. Two or three weeks later, Slaven approached and asked for more money to purchase a farm in Sunbright that featured a brick house, farm and shop. She even showed him pictures of the farm, owned by Ira and Daisy Northrup.
Lanquist then, accompanied by Slaven, went to the bank and borrowed $100,000 more, and wrote a check for $115,000 which he gave to Slaven. "I had no reason to doubt her," Lanquist testified. "She was a licensed real estate agent."
As an after thought, Lanquist told Slaven he wanted the farm in his name in a warranty deed.
When Slaven returned later, she produced two contracts — one for sale of the farm with her and Ira Northrup's signature. The second document was a resale of the farm to someone named "Smithney" for $400,000.
Lanquist's suspicions were raised, and testified the documents "did not look right," and that were several key items missing. He added that he thought the profit "seemed too big."
At one point, in October of that year, Lanquist shared his concerns with Slaven and was told by her, "I love you guys and would do nothing to hurt you."
After that, he had no further contact with Slaven and was never repaid for his total investment of $160,000.
Under cross examination from Nesbit, Lanquist denied that the two checks he gave to Slaven were a gift. "I was too trusting," Lanquist responded, "If it had been anyone else, I would have gotten a written contract."
Nesbit then asked if the two checks were not an open-ended loan. "When did you expect to be repaid?" Nesbit asked. He also asked what he thought would be a reasonable return on his investment.
Lanquist responded that the return of his money plus six percent on his investment would have been reasonable.
Ira Northrup was called to the stand and testified that at the time Lanquist gave the money to Slaven, his farm located on Taylor Jack Rd. was not for sale. He added he had never entered an agreement with Slaven to sell his farm, and when Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie showed him a copy of the quit claim dead, Northrup said he had never seen the document and that the signature on it was not his.
At McKenzie's urging, he signed a blank piece of paper and that signature, along with the quit claim deed, was passed to the jury for the panel to compare.
District Attorney Investigator Kendall Hargis testified that once contacted by Lanquist in December 2011, he launched a search for anyone in the area named "Smithney," but failed to find anyone by that name.
He was the last state witness, and Slaven waived her right to testify, so the trial ended on that note.
Nesbit, in closing remarks, questioned why the trial was being held, calling the issue a loan and not a real estate transaction. "He gave it to her," he told the jury, adding that Lanquist could have pursued getting his money back through civil court.
There were several lesser included offenses the jury had the option of considering, down to simple theft, but it only took 40 minutes to return with the guilty verdict. The jury did not assess a fine.