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Six years for stealing retired nun's life savings
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

William H. Lofthus

 

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Published: 6/25/2009 6:04 PM | Updated: 6/25/2009 6:04 PM

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A former financial planner was sentenced Thursday to six years in prison for stealing a retired nun's life savings.

William H. Lofthus looted $427,163.95 from the elderly woman and blew it at riverboat casinos while struggling with a gambling addiction fueled by his bipolar disorder.

Lofthus, 55, formerly of Plainfield, pleaded guilty to felony theft during a Jan. 26 DuPage County court hearing. He faced probation or up to 15 years in prison.

Bernice F. Laurins died penniless in November 2005 at the Château Living Center in Willowbrook. The retired nun was 92.

Laurins entrusted Lofthus with her finances as far back as the 1980s and, in later years, named him her estate trustee. Laurins suffered a stroke on her birthday in 2002 that left her with dementia and in a wheelchair.

Her longtime best friend, Kathryn McGarrity, testified Thursday Laurins was a proud woman who was so concerned about remaining financially independent that in her later years before the stroke began hoarding her pennies rather than enjoy an occasional show, trip to the opera or vacation.

"She said if anything were to ever happen to her, she wanted to make sure she was taken care of and not a burden to anyone," McGarrity said. "So, any money she had, she'd give it to (Lofthus). She trusted him implicitly."

Authorities began investigating Lofthus in late 2004 after the Willowbrook nursing facility reported constant delinquent payments and an outstanding balance. In fact, Laurins almost was evicted.

By that time, Lofthus already had reported himself to the Illinois Secretary of State's securities department. Lofthus said he wanted to right his wrongs. By then he was nearly suicidal and still gambling and drinking, but he voluntarily began counseling and medication.

Lofthus now works as a $14-an-hour telemarketer. He asked DuPage Circuit Judge Blanche Hill Fawell for probation Thursday to allow him to pay restitution.

"I did wrong. I am a sinner," Lofthus said. "But I am a repentant sinner. I am deeply sorry and have been sorry for years. I ask for the chance to continue to be able to go to work."

Prosecutor William Wu said Lofthus used the nun's banking account as his own personal piggy bank for at least five years. Lofthus spent the stolen money to pay off his own credit cards and for riverboat gambling.

"It's ironic," Wu said. "Bernice Laurins spent her entire life dedicated and committed to helping others, first as a nun and then in hospital administration, and, in a few short years, the defendant takes and spends her money on nothing but to help himself."

Lofthus did not have a previous criminal record. Before his life spun out of control, he raised three children as a single parent after his first wife lost custody and achieved a high level of success as a financial planner.

"It doesn't excuse his conduct, but it does explain how this happened," defense attorney Michelle Moore said of her client's mental disorder and gambling addiction. "I ask you to look at the whole man and his accomplishments before this ugly, ugly series of events took place. No punishment you impose will ever be worse than what he already feels in his heart, on his conscience and in his soul."

Laurins, a 40-year nun, worked in the medical field while in the Sisters of St. Casimir Roman Catholic Order. Afterward, the registered nurse continued working in hospital administration.

"She was a happy-go-lucky person," said niece Arlene Grygier, of Glen Ellyn, of her aunt. "Her main concern was that she'd be safe and taken care of. We kept (the thefts) from her. We didn't want her to be concerned."

Besides Laurins, Lofthus also stole from 13 former clients in Cook and Will counties. His former company, Waterstone Financial Group, reimbursed the clients. He must serve half the six-year prison term before being eligible for parole. Judge Fawell also ordered Lofthus to begin paying restitution to Laurins' estate upon his release from prison.