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Home Repair Scam Leads To Twenty-Five Year Jail Sentence

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Virginia Detlefs, 81, was living in her own home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when she first met Mark Olsen. In September, 1996, Mr. Olsen contacted Ms. Detlefs and offered to evaluate her home to see if it needed any repairs.

With the help of his live-in girlfriend Jennifer Wagner, Mr. Olsen ran a home improvement business. He also had a substantial cocaine habit to support. Ms. Detlefs was exactly the kind of “client” Mr. Olsen preferred—she was, as the Iowa Supreme Court later noted, “susceptible to suggestion and influence.”

Mr. Olsen’s initial appraisal of Ms. Detlefs’ home was that it needed finishing work on the wood trim and floors, carpet cleaning and window washing. He estimated that the job would cost $6,000 and Ms. Detlefs authorized him to begin the work.

That contract was just Mr. Olsen’s way of getting his foot in the door. Over the next nineteen months he and his girlfriend persuaded Ms. Detlefs to pay them more than $200,000 for various home improvement jobs. In fact, however, the couple performed almost no actual work on Ms. Detlefs’ home.

Iowa, as it happens, was the first and only state (so far) to adopt a version of the Model Ongoing Criminal Conduct Act initially proposed in 1993 by the national President’s Commission on Model State Drug Laws. The Act is similar to laws in a number of states (including Arizona) which prohibit racketeering, but the new law is more comprehensive.

Mr. Olsen was convicted and sentenced to a term of incarceration not to exceed twenty-five years, and ordered to make restitution to Ms. Detlefs. He appealed his conviction and sentence.

Mr. Olsen’s argument on appeal was not that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Instead he argued that just operating a two-person scam did not amount to “ongoing criminal conduct.” The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed, and his conviction and sentence were upheld. State v. Olsen, October 11, 2000.

Perhaps more interesting than the result in Mr. Olsen’s case is how his activities came to the attention of the authorities in the first place. One of the persistent problems in dealing with financial exploitation of the elderly is that abuse usually takes place in secret. Frequently there is no one involved enough in the victim’s life to be aware of the exploitation.

In Ms. Detlefs’ case an alert neighbor saved her from further losses. Noticing that Mr. Olsen and Ms. Wagner visited Ms. Detlefs’ home regularly for short periods, and that no repair work seemed to be undertaken, the neighbor asked Ms. Detlefs to show him her check register. When the neighbor saw the pattern of payments to Mr. Olsen and Ms. Wagner, he called police. Once investigators were involved Mr. Olsen’s conviction was assured.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.