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Seattle man gets prison for using power of attorney to steal mom's estate

Not allowed to use his cane to walk after sentencing, John Hanni is taken from court in a wheelchair. KOMO photo

SEATTLE -- In what's considered one of the biggest cases of financial abuse the state has seen against against a vulnerable adult, 64-yea- old John Hanni of Seattle was sentenced Friday to four years in prison.

Hanni pleaded guilty to stealing more than $600,000 from his mother, MaryAnn Hanni, who suffered from acute dementia. She had no way of understanding the son she put in charge of her money was a thief.

"He basically went through all of her accounts and cashed them in and spent them." said Ann Hanni, one of John's seven adult siblings.

The family eventually discovered their brother even cashed out the equity in their mother's mortgage-free home.

"An $800,000 reverse mortgage on my parents' home." Ann explained. "And they had paid off their home in 1979."

Instead of using his mother's money to pay for her dementia care at the Bayview Manor nursing facility in Seattle, investigators say John Hanni used the money for himself -- gambling most of it away at local casinos. Court records show the exploitation went on for eight years.

"I have hurt many people with my destructive behavior of impulsive gambling." John Hanni told the court before learning his sentence.

"I feel that I must apologize here and now to the people I have harmed. I am humbled and ashamed that I did not apologize to my mother for so long." John Hanni continued.

For Ann Hanni, the apology is too little too late.

"On top of the money he stole is the emotional pain he caused our family." Ann said in court.

"There were many sleepless nights, said Ann and John's sister Margo Spiering, who helped piece together the evidence from her home in Portland.

Prosecutors requested an extreme sentence of five years for Hanni. His defense attorney, Katharine Edwards argued for much less prison time, urging that mandatory treatment for gambling addiction would better serve the family and taxpayers.

"Years will have passed with his addiction going untreated", Katharine Edwards said of the state's recommendation. "This is not an appropriate sentence." Edwards said of the state's request.

John Hanni's son told the judge that he saw directly how his father did a lot of positive things for MaryAnn Hanni.

"I absolutely believe that my father loved my grandmother." said Gregg Hanni.

"I accept the fact that my father injured my grandmother financially by his gambling addiction. But I don't believe this injury was a directed and conscious act towards her out of anger, spite or greed."

Gregg Hanni went on to say that it was his hope that his dad could get the help he needs to conquer his addictive behavior.

Instead of the standard sentence of up to 90 days for a first offense as the defense attorney requested, King County Superior Court Judge Steve Rosen sentenced Hanni to 48 months based on the aggravating factors in the case.

"It was one of the biggest thefts from an elderly adult that King County has seen in a very long time." said Rosen.

"We're relieved that it's over." said Ann Hanni, standing with sister Margo as their brother was taken from the courtroom in handcuffs.

"We're very sad. We're sad for our whole family, and we're sad for our brother." Ann Hanni added.

Once he is out of prison, John Hanni must begin to pay $605,496.65 in restitution to his mother's estate.

MaryAnn Hanni died last October at the age of 90.

Her son's sentence comes as state lawmakers consider a bill that makes it easier to go after anyone for crimes against a vulnerable persons of any kind.

The next hearing for HB1153 and its companion bill, SB 5099, is scheduled for 10 a.m. March 28 before the Senate Committee on Law and Justice in Olympia.

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