Dalton, a 'manipulative master of deception,' sent to prison for 13 monthsPaul Dalton was sentenced Thursday to more than a year in prison and required to pay back almost $60,000 he stole from the estate of an elderly Astoria woman.
Clatsop County Circuit Judge Paula Brownhill handed down the sentence despite a tearful plea from Dalton's wife that he not be incarcerated.
In January, Dalton pleaded guilty to first-degree theft for taking money from Anna Washer, a landlord of Dalton's whom he befriended and eventually, according to the charges against him, manipulated into turning over control of her finances to him for his own use.
"What I did was wrong, there is no excuse," Dalton told Brownhill. But he asked that she not impose a prison sentence, saying he would be better able to support his family and pay off the debt to the Washer estate if he could continue working.
Brownhill, however, stuck with the 13-month sentence called for in the state sentencing guidelines, turning down both Dalton's request and the prosecution's recommendation for a longer prison term.
"I feel very badly for your wife and child, but I feel you need to be held accountable for your acts," she said.
After the hearing, Dalton was escorted from the courtroom by a Clatsop County Sheriff's deputy for transfer to the state corrections department.
The criminal case grew out of a probate fight between relatives of Anna Washer and Dalton, who was named executor of her estate when she died in 1998 at age 90.
Dalton, who became a tenant of Washer in the mid-1990s, used his influence to gain control of Washer's finances before her death, the relatives claim, writing checks to himself and friends, making loans to other people, and transferring money to his auto wholesale business. He also had Washer transfer title of a rental property in Astoria to him for $1, they said, and eventually got her to rewrite her will to put him in charge of her estate.
But Dalton portrayed himself as a friend who protected Washer from out-of-town relatives who wanted to commit her to a nursing home against her will, and made errors in handling her estate finances only because he wasn't given proper instructions from attorneys representing the estate. He denied he ever manipulated Washer, and said he paid himself, family and friends for legitimate caregiver services they provided for the elderly woman before her death.
Dalton, who represented himself throughout the case and at Thursday's hearing, called his wife to testify on his behalf. Fighting back tears, Lil Dalton told Brownhill how she and her husband cared for Anna Washer, and begged the judge not to send her husband to prison, saying she had no way of providing for herself and the couple's son on her own.
But a relative of Washer told Brownhill that Dalton was a "manipulative master of deception" who turned the elderly woman against her family.
"He is a predator, liar and crook," said Diane Brown, Washer's niece. "He hurt the members of Anna Washer's family deeply with his lies, falsehoods and deceit."
Brown said that when Washer was moved to Clatsop Care Center, Dalton immediately flew back to Astoria from Florida and removed her from the nursing facility without informing the family.
District Attorney Josh Marquis argued for a 28-month prison sentence, and to bolster his case gave Brownhill copies of newspaper articles about a 1973 case in which Dalton was convicted for kidnapping a Bellingham, Wash., woman from her home. He served about three years in prison for the crime.
"When I learned of the kidnapping case, that gave me even greater pause," he said. "Even though it was more than 30 years ago, it also involved preying on an elderly woman."
Dalton used his reputation in the community, earned through his involvement in church, Boy Scouts and fund-raising efforts for local schools, to gain Washer's trust, Marquis said.
Tracking down all the funds that Dalton handled and where they went was difficult, Marquis said, and the $59,713 in restitution accounts for some savings bonds of Washer's that were definitively linked to him.
"Are you suggesting he stole more than that, but that's all you can prove?" Brownhill asked.
"Yes," Marquis responded.
Brownhill, who received several letters from friends of Dalton on his behalf, said the information about the 1973 crime was disturbing.
"This is an extremely serious crime," she said. "I wonder if all the people who wrote letters on your behalf know about this?"