News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

Former Whidbey Island Resident Sentenced To 46 Months In Prison For Taking More Than $2 Million From Elderly Victim

Woman Preyed Upon Vulnerable Alzheimer’s Patient to Enrich Herself and Her Relatives

January 6, 2012

            SHEA SAENGER,60, formerly of Whidbey Island, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 46 months in prison, three years of supervised release and $2,161,246 in restitution for mail fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  SAENGER pleaded guilty in July 2011, admitting she scammed an elderly man with memory problems out of more than $2 million.  SAENGER had been imprisoned in the Kittitas County Jail for contempt of court, before being transferred to federal custody.  At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones told SAENGER that her "greed superseded your professed concern for the victim... The only real love interest you had was for his bank account... Lust for unlimited access to his wealth."             

            According to records filed in the case, in 2005 SAENGER struck up an online relationship with an elderly Ellensburg man. The victim’s wife had died just ten months earlier.  SAENGER falsely represented to the man that she was single, and available for a romantic relationship.  In fact, SAENGER was married and living in Coupeville, Washington with her husband.  Over the next few years SAENGER invented multiple stories to get the victim to send her money.  She claimed she would marry the victim if he would help her with financial needs.  SAENGER requested and received hundreds of thousands of dollars for an uncle who did not exist, for surgeries she never had and did not need, and for her purchase of a car.  SAENGER knew the victim suffered from memory problems and would tell him he had not sent her a check when, in fact he had already sent significant amounts of money.  SAENGER obtained more than $2 million from the victim, and transferred about half the money to relatives in Arkansas and Tennessee.

            In asking for a significant sentence, prosecutors noted that SAENGER defrauded her victim by appealing to his desire to help others.  “Saenger lied about having breast cancer, a life threatening condition that takes thousands of lives every year.  These lies were effective because most people would never imagine that anyone would ever lie about these circumstances.  They were credible simply because they were uttered.  Indeed, few would ever doubt a person’s claim that she, or her family member, were facing a life threatening illness.  That is precisely what makes this crime so vile: Saenger lied about the kinds of things that tug at the hearstrings and engender true compassion,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.  

            The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Aravind Swaminathan and Richard E. Cohen.


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