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 41/2 years, for everything from meals at local restaurants to trips to Las Vegas and Mexico, tickets for sporting events and a comedy hypnotist, payments for real estate taxes, and credit card late fees.
She drained Hamilton's IRA accounts and 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," Richard Fink said, "so he could continue living the life he was accustomed to."
Marquardt, 65, was sentenced Tuesday in Bucks County Court to three 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 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 woman 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.
Virginia Marquardt also benefited, according to court records. She spent Hamilton's money for work on the couple's house, for real estate taxes, and for meals, entertainment, and trips.
Meanwhile, the unpaid balance on Hamilton's nursing-home bill climbed steadily, starting in 2009.
According to court records, Hamilton's pension and the partial pension of her deceased husband were deposited into a bank account controlled by Marquardt, who also controlled Hamilton's IRA accounts.
Twice, Hamilton's nursing-home bill neared or surpassed $80,000, and Marquardt said there was no money left to pay for care.
Last year, a state welfare caseworker questioned Marquardt's use of Hamilton's money. Marquardt said the money had been used for her husband's businesses, court records state.
A petition was filed in Bucks 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 accounts and that he was unaware she had used Hamilton's money.
Virginia Marquardt's house arrest will end after three months if she is "misconduct-free," her lawyer said. Then she will serve five years' 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."