LEE COUNTY — A Lee County woman who pleaded guilty to theft, admitting she’d cashed her mummified mother’s Social Security checks, now wants to withdraw her plea and hire a handwriting analyst to dispute allegations that she’d cashed 14 months’ worth.
Gail Andrews, 63, of south Fort Myers, filed a motion this week to withdraw her pleas to theft of government property and failing to disclose a death, citing her public defender’s “lack of willingness” to inform her about evidence and more than 20 mistakes in her pre-sentencing report.
Andrews contends her federal public defender, Martin Der Ovanesian, didn’t fully communicate with her, return phone calls or explain important deadlines.
“Nowhere was the defendant ever told she had 14 days to object to the errors and non-truths in the report or it would be entered into records as fact,” Andrews wrote in her motion, adding, “There are over 20 object/errors at this time.”
Andrews, who is free on bond, contends Der Ovanesian misinformed her, telling her she had two options, guilty or not guilty “and with all the media coverage, if she would go to trial, she would be found guilty and have the maximum sentence given to her.”
A friend, Karen Sumoski, filed an affidavit detailing their difficulties in getting the evidence. She said they’d asked for copies of the Social Security checks and a handwriting analysis, but were told they didn’t need one because the prosecutor was “leaning toward” a determination that she’d cashed checks for 14 months and would be sentenced to probation and restitution, not prison time.
Andrews pleaded guilty Oct. 31, but her public defender said they’d be disputing the amount that prosecutors say she received. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Michelland has said she stole $52,308.70, which is based on the government’s determination that Andrews’ 87-year-old mother, Gladys, died in March 2006.
When she pleaded guilty, Andrews told U.S. District Court Magistrate Sheri Polster Chappel that her mother died in April 2009, not March 2006.
Der Ovanesian declined to comment. No dates have been set for sentencing or to hear the motion in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers. Since the guilty plea, the judge assigned to the case moved to another jurisdiction and it was reassigned to U.S. District Judge John Steele.
Andrews faces up to 10 years in federal prison for each offense, in addition to three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each count in the 2010 indictment. She also must repay the government what she stole.
Her plight was discovered in June 2010, when Lee County sheriff’s deputies found her mother’s badly decomposed body hidden in a bedroom underneath 2-foot-high piles of trash littering her St. Andrews Circle home after a wellness check. It was prompted by concerned neighbors, who hadn’t seen Gladys Andrews in years. They’d complained about rats, cats, trash and foul odors coming from the rundown home.
Since then, businesses and residents have donated time and supplies to help her repair and remain in the 2,416-square-foot house she’d shared with her mother and father, Andrew John Andrews, who died in 1999 at age 83. His widow then received survivor’s benefits, which prosecutors say Gail Andrews then cashed.
Andrews, a Lee County teacher for 20 years, has said things piled up in her house after she left her job to care for her ailing parents. She said her mother fell making her bed, couldn’t get up and she couldn’t lift her. So she placed pillows and blankets on the floor, but she died two days later.
Fearing she’d be thrown out of her home of 36 years, she kept it a secret. She initially told deputies her mother was visiting relatives in Connecticut, but deputies obtained a search warrant and found the skeleton bundled in blankets a week later.