||Last Updated: Jan 30th, 2017 - 13:17:40
A Tucson woman accused of defrauding a Boston couple in an adoption plan was given a stern warning Tuesday before being sentenced to 100 days in jail and four years of probation.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley had considered sentencing Karla Vargas to prison, he said, for a financial crime he called both unusual and deeply hurtful. McGinley said he changed his mind after reflecting on Vargas’ difficult life, and also because the victims asked that she be spared prison.
McGinley then warned Vargas to stop making poor decisions and “using other people’s good will against them.”
The judge did not provide details about what had happened in Vargas’ life.
Victim Cindy Cantrell, a Boston journalist, said after Tuesday’s hearing that she had requested prison time for Vargas and so did her husband, Jack McHugh. She was confused how this message was not clearly conveyed to the judge, but also said she is just grateful Vargas was prosecuted.
“What’s done is done,” she wrote in an email exchange with the Arizona Daily Star.
Vargas, 35, who has had 12 children and a long history of child-welfare issues, kept the November 2015 births of her twins a secret and then tried to get money after the babies were born while pretending to still be pregnant, Tucson police said. A Tucson police detective said Vargas admitted that she didn’t want to give up the twins she was carrying and kept it quiet to get money from Cantrell and McHugh.
Vargas, the judge said, used her pregnancy to string along the couple and got them to “invest time and money and emotion” toward adopting children he said Vargas “knew they would not be getting.”
“You are not before this court because you decided to change your mind,” he said, adding she had the right to do that at any time if she had simply told the people involved.
Vargas pleaded guilty in December to one count of attempted fraud and artifice, in return for other charges being dropped. She was indicted on five counts including two of forgery, two of fraud scheme and artifice and one of theft.
McGinley said if she violates her probation and ends up back in his courtroom, he will send her to prison.
“You will have used up all of everyone’s good graces,” he said.
Vargas and her sister, Lucianna Lopez, set the couple up from the beginning, Tucson Police Detective Jennifer Burns said during an interview last week, by telling them Lopez was Vargas’ landlord and exaggerating by $100 per month the amount of rent due. Lopez, who was indicted on the same charges as her sister, still has her case pending.
The total in rent and other living expenses paid by the couple to Vargas over four to five months amounted to $6,014. That amount was reimbursed by the California-based Adoption Network Law Center.
The twins were removed from Vargas’ care in May by Arizona’s Department of Child Safety. Their status is not a matter of public record.
Neither Benjamin Mendola, a deputy Pima County attorney, nor Vargas’ defense attorney, Michelle Bowan, would comment on the sentencing.
Mendola did not make a specific request for sentencing, other than pointing out Vargas had a prior conviction for theft and that she carried out the current crime for financial gain. He said there wasn’t much he could add that went beyond Cantrell’s letter to the court, which was not read aloud, but which Cantrell provided to the Star Tuesday.
“Our final message to you, Karla, is simple. Get it together. Stop lying. Stop stealing. Stop hurting people,” Cantrell wrote in her victim impact statement because she couldn’t be present for the hearing.
“You are fortunate to have so many children, and even if none of them lives with you, you still can and should become a mother and productive citizen of which they can feel proud.”
When the judge asked Vargas if she had anything to say before her sentencing, she answered, “I’m sorry.”
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