Ex-banker gets 5 years for defrauding elderly

A former Centerville Union Savings Bank manager was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $1 million from elderly and vulnerable customers.

Diane Elizabeth Niehaus, 40, was convicted of embezzlement, money laundering and filing a false tax return in Dayton’s U.S. District Court after a yearslong scheme of what prosecutors said was taking advantage of customers who were dying, sick and suffering from cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Before he announced the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Black told Niehaus she was as “skillful and sophisticated a manipulator as this judge has seen in 20 years” and that her bank job put her in “perfect position to rape and pillage (the victims’) savings.”

The amount of restitution Niehaus must pay — which Black said was between $400,000 and $700,000 — will be determined at a future hearing. Most of the money that victims got back came from Union Savings Bank and insurance companies, not from Niehaus.

Black allowed Niehaus to leave the court on a promise to return in 30 to 45 days when she will report to serve her sentence in a federal penitentiary.

At Black’s urging, Niehaus turned and apologized to Joan Lyons, the eldest daughter of Dorothy Cline and the late Jesse Cline. Court records show Niehaus and her husband, Paul, often visited the Clines under the guise of helping them.

Niehaus ultimately convinced Dorothy Cline, who was suffering from dementia, to draw up a new will and to turn against her own children. Prosecutors say Niehaus used the money to buy a $460,000 home and be able to afford five cars.

“I believe it was her plan to leave her penniless and a ward of the state,” Lyons said Thursday in court. “She almost achieved it.”

Neither Black nor Lyons bought Niehaus’ apology. “I think the judge did what he could do with the sentencing guidelines (which called for between 57 and 71 months),” Lyons said after the sentencing. “I think her apology was very insincere.”

U.S. Assistant Attorney Brent G. Tabacchi said the sentence, which reflected prosecutors’ wishes, was fair and “reflected the seriousness of the offense and the nature of the victims.”

The Clines’ plight was first reported after local attorney Craig Matthews filed a civil lawsuit against Niehaus and her husband, Paul, whom Black called “an unindicted co-conspirator.”

“(Elder fraud) is something that we have seen more of within the last several years; it’s just a product of an aging population,” Tabacchi said. “We do have other investigations similar to this that are ongoing.

“Partly because of this case and the publicity it has received, people are much more aware of this type of fraud going on and are much more willing to reach out to law enforcement saying we’re seeing this kind of problem.”

Federal public defender Thomas Anderson said his client has “psychological distortions” and “major, major problems” but that Niehaus is “not today the same person she was” when she committed her crimes.

Anderson told Black he had a substantive objection on the length of the sentence imposed because Niehaus did not have a criminal record, though court documents show she was terminated from another bank for financial improprieties and once stole a family member’s identity to fraudulently obtain a loan and credit cards in the family member’s name.

Court records also show Niehaus used deceptive tactics such as: creating fictitious gift letters and fraudulent powers of attorney; engaging in complicated and layered financial transactions to conceal theft; falsely accusing a fellow employee; and falsely claiming to be a cancer survivor from a wealthy family with ties to Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble.

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