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Press Release

Woman Sentenced for Defrauding Disabled Couple of More Than $500,000

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Tennessee

Memphis, TN – A woman has been sentenced to federal prison for defrauding a disabled couple of more than $500,000 in less than a year. Edward L. Stanton III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, announced the sentence today.

According to information presented in court, Martha Bizzell, 41, of Crump, Tennessee, served as the guardian for an elderly and disabled couple between November 2011 and July 2012.

In November 2011, James Robertson, then 81, of Peoria, Illinois, was severely beaten in a home invasion at his residence. He lived at the home with his wife, Helen, who suffered from dementia. Although James Robertson survived the attack, he was no longer able to live on his own and care for his wife.

At the time of the home invasion, the estate of the Robertsons was valued at approximately $1.5 million. The couple had more than 50 rental properties in Illinois; approximately $585,000 in Caterpillar Inc. stock; approximately $638,000 in other investment accounts; and approximately $83,000 in credit union accounts.

Shortly after the home invasion, Bizzell, a distant relative of James Robertson, was appointed as temporary guardian of the Robertsons’ estate by order of Peoria County Probate Court. She was made the couple’s plenary guardian in January 2012, and subsequently moved them to Crump, Tennessee.

Bizzell executed her scheme in several ways: Property was donated or deeded to others; stock investments were liquidated; funds were transferred from the Robertsons’ accounts to Bizzell’s personal account; and funds were transferred to two guardianship accounts Bizzell established for the Robertsons in her name.

In December 2011, the defendant had checks mailed from Bank of New York, Mellon — located in Jersey City, New Jersey — to a post office box she used in Savannah, Tennessee.

Bizzell used the Robertsons’ finances to purchase two automobiles and several properties in her name, one of which was rented to a tenant. Bizzell also purchased a commercial property in Savannah, Tennessee. The property was turned into a frozen yogurt shop called Happy Katz. The defendant’s teenage daughter ran the establishment.

In July 2015, Bizzell pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr. to one count of executing a scheme to defraud and obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses.

On Friday, April 8, 2016, Judge Mays sentenced Bizzell to 41 months in federal prison. She was also ordered to pay $587,207.57 in restitution.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Ireland prosecuted this case on the government’s behalf.

Updated April 11, 2016