Alice Hamilton was a 62-year-old widow suffering from terminal cancer in 2007 when she moved into a nursing home and asked her longtime Bensalem neighbor to handle her affairs.
The neighbor, Virginia Marquardt, promptly obtained power of attorney for Hamilton and started spending her money.
Marquardt, a former registered nurse, stole nearly $313,000 over the next 4 ½ years, for everything from meals at local restaurants to trips to Las Vegas and Mexico, tickets for sporting events and a comedy hypnotist to payments for real estate taxes and credit card late fees.
She drained Hamilton's IRA accounts, spent the woman's monthly pension payments and proceeds from the sale of her house, while Hamilton's nursing home bills mounted.
Mostly, Marquardt did it to keep her husband from leaving her, her lawyer said Wednesday.
"She kept his businesses running so he could continue living the life he was accustomed to," Richard Fink said.
Marquardt, 65, of Badger Road, was sentenced Tuesday in Bucks County Court to 3- to 23 months of house arrest, after previously pleading guilty to four counts of theft and one count of receiving stolen property.
Judge John Rufe ordered her to make full restitution and to pay $25,000 for court and investigative costs.
"It was a fair sentence," Fink said. "The judge took the extreme circumstances into account. She was suffering from battered women's syndrome."
Marquardt's husband, Edward, is a decorated Vietnam war veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is prone to temper outbursts, Fink said.
Some of Hamilton's money paid the bills for Edward Marquardt's Manhattan Bagel and Great Clips franchises, according to court records. The money also paid for his golf outings and credit card balances.
But Virginia Marquardt also benefitted from Hamilton's money, according to court records. She spent it for work on the couple's house, for real estate taxes, and for meals, entertainment and trips.
For the couple's trip to Mexico, Hamilton's money paid for air fare, the hotel, golf, scuba diving, food and entertainment, according to court records.
Meanwhile, the unpaid balance on Hamilton's nursing home bill climbed steadily, starting in 2009.
According to court records:
Hamilton's Social Security checks were deposited with Briarleaf Nursing & Convalescent Center in Doylestown, but they only covered partial payment. The balance was to be paid from Hamilton's assets, including monthly payments from her pension and the partial pension of her deceased husband.
Those payments were deposited into a bank account controlled by Marquardt, who also controlled Hamilton's IRA accounts totaling more than $80,000.
Twice, Hamilton's bill neared or surpassed $80,000, and Marquardt said there was no money left to pay for care. Each time, Marquardt filed for state medical assistance, which was denied because Hamilton still had assets.
In 2011, Marquadt covered the balance by selling Hamilton's house for about $200,000. She paid the nursing home $117,000 and banked $83,000. That money paid for the Mexico trip.
Last year, with the unpaid balance back to $78,000, a state welfare case worker questioned Marquardt's use of Hamilton's money. Marquardt said the money had been used for her husband's businesses.
When the balance continued to rise, a petition was filed in county Orphans Court, which named lawyer Geoffrey Graham as Hamilton's guardian and revoked Marquardt's power of attorney.
Bensalem police then reviewed the bank account that Marquardt had controlled and charged her in June.
Edward Marquardt was not charged. He told police that his wife handled their bills and accounts and that he was unaware she had used Hamilton's money. He also said that his wife had used up to $50,000 of his savings without telling him and had run up a $75,000 debt.
Virginia Marquardt's house arrest will end after three months if she is "misconduct free," her lawyer said. Then she will serve five year's probation.
She declined to comment about the case or her sentence, but Fink said she "feels a lot of guilt and shame."
"She didn't start out to steal the money," he said. "The plan was to borrow it. She always intended to pay it back."
Marquardt has paid back all but about $50,000, which she will pay soon, Fink said.
"She turned to her family for help," he said, "and took a mortgage on her house."