Cloverdale man sentenced to 10 years in prison for elder theft

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A Cloverdale man was sentenced Friday to 10 years in state prison for swindling an elderly Santa Rosa couple of their fortune.

Theodore Smith Hudson III, 54, had worked as a handyman and later a caregiver for the couple, Nicholas Sabanovich and his wife, Gudrun Block- Sabanovich.

Sabanovich, a retired Stanford University professor, died in 2015. Block-Sabanovich died in May at age 93, a day after she learned that a jury had convicted Hudson on nine counts of theft from an elder adult.

Nine months earlier in August 2017, her attorney had persuaded a civil jury to award her nearly $20 million in damages against Hudson. The case alleged that the caregiver through manipulation had gained control of the woman’s bank accounts and obtained the transfer of $18 million in commercial real estate.

“This defendant manipulated and coerced these victims and caused them significant mental suffering,” Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a statement. “The lengthy prison sentence was very appropriate in these circumstances.”

The couple had moved to the Wikiup neighborhood from Palo Alto about three decades ago. They had no surviving children.

The two hired Hudson in 2009 to do yard work and odd jobs.

“Over time they became increasingly dependent on him to assist them with getting to doctor appointments, shopping, and personal care,” according to a press release from the District Attorney’s Office.

After her husband’s death, Block-Sabanovich “was devastated and extremely vulnerable,” as well as legally blind and in deteriorating heath, the press release stated. “Hudson began to pressure her and threatened to abandon her if she did not transfer property to him.”

In response, Block- Sabanovich added Hudson’s name to many of her bank accounts and gave him several commercial properties, the press release stated. During the civil trial, her attorney said the real estate included 10 commercial investment properties in California, Nebraska and Texas worth an estimated $18 million.

Hudson also embezzled $1.5 million from the woman’s bank accounts to buy a 4,000-square-foot luxury home in Cloverdale. Block-Sabanovich discovered the theft and alerted a business acquaintance, who contacted the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Judge Julie Conger sentenced Hudson, who had faced a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said in addition to the sentence, Hudson was ordered to pay restitution, with the amount to be determined by the state Victim’s Compensation Board.

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