Jury hears woman stole $2 million from elderly man

Statements from an elderly wealthy Australian man from whom Michelle Bouchard is accused of stealing more than $2 million were read to the jury in the woman’s trial Wednesday.

James Bruce Handford gave statements to police in 2012, following the alleged thefts, which occurred on various dates between May 2010 and October 2012 and which involve sums totaling CI$1,591,432.70 and US$805,806.25.

Bouchard is charged with 26 counts of dishonesty, including 15 charges of theft.

Justice Paul Worsley told the jury that Mr. Handford, now 87, suffers from dementia and was unable to come to court.

The judge said he had decided that jurors were entitled to hear Mr. Handford’s statements.

However, because they would not have the opportunity to see him or his reactions to questions from the defense attorneys, the judge was allowing defense counsel Peter Carter to explain the questions he would have asked.

The judge noted that the prosecution’s case was that Bouchard was using Mr. Handford; the defense case was that they had a caring relationship – that Mr. Handford was a very wealthy man who had money to give and did give it.

Mr. Handford in his 2012 statement explained that he had purchased a condominium on Seven Mile Beach and Bouchard was hired by management as an interior decorator.

She later asked if she could stay in a spare room for a few months. In exchange for room and board, she provided secretarial assistance for his business rentals and paid bills for the condo maintenance and utilities. They were joint signatories on a U.S. and CI bank account.

Later, she proposed that he invest in buying rundown property that she would fix up and sell, at which point he would get his investment back and she would keep the profit.

He was agreeable, wanting her to build a nest egg, but he said she had no authorization to transfer money to her own accounts and his approval would have been required before any property was purchased.

Mr. Handford, in his statement, said on many occasions he asked Bouchard about taking their relationship to the next level of boyfriend/girlfriend, but she was not interested.

Lead defense counsel Mr. Carter said he wished he could question the man his client knew in 2010-2012. The prosecution was wrong in suggesting that Mr. Handford was a lonely, vulnerable and increasingly frail man, Mr. Carter said. In fact, during that time he was riding a motorbike, flying his own helicopter and building a boathouse.

Mr. Handford was very wealthy: he had agreed that Bouchard could send her brother $30,000 and referred to it as “a small amount.”

He was an imaginative, engaging man, a brilliant engineer, Mr. Carter said, and Bouchard liked him, but was not interested in a sexual relationship. She was interested in her career.

Mr. Carter said Mr. Handford’s health declined rapidly between May and September 2012 when he was in Australia.

The trial continues.