Husband of ‘Sweetheart Swindler’ Sentenced to 85 Years for Bilking Older People

Prosecutors said that Desiree Boltos and her husband, Paul Hill, stole more than $3 million from seniors who believed they were in romantic relationships with her.


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Looking back, James Olmstead still thinks it might have been a chance meeting: He was in the checkout line at an Office Depot store in Texas when the woman ahead of him backed up and bumped into him.

“She turned around and said, ‘Pardon me,’ and I said, ‘No problem,'” he recalled on Thursday.

In the parking lot, Mr. Olmstead found that the woman’s car was parked right next to his, and they started talking. She told him she was 32 and single, he recalled. She said her husband had died of cancer.

Mr. Olmstead, a retired Navy officer who was 75 at the time, asked her out on a date. It was the fall of 2012. Over the next two years, Mr. Olmstead began what he believed was a romantic relationship with the woman, Desiree Boltos. They went to restaurants together. He took her shopping at the mall. He met her children. He proposed marriage. She said yes.

All the while, she kept asking him for money, he said: for her brother’s business, for a court battle involving her grandmother’s inheritance, to remove a cyst from her birth canal, court records show.

Prosecutors say Mr. Olmstead gave Ms. Boltos $298,000 through wire transfers, cash and checks. Mr. Olmstead said he spent closer to $380,000 on Ms. Boltos — giving her all but $10,000 of his life savings.

“I was emotionally involved with her so I just kept writing checks until it was all gone,” Mr. Olmstead, who is now 83 and lives in Fort Worth, said in an interview.

But she wasn’t acting alone, prosecutors said. They said her common-law husband, Paul Hill, whom she introduced to victims as her brother, was her “equal partner” in bilking not just Mr. Olmstead but also other older people and then spending their money at casinos.

On Thursday, Mr. Hill, 43, was sentenced to 125 years in prison — to be served concurrently as 85 years — after he pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering, theft of property, organized criminal activity and jumping bail, prosecutors said.

His sentence follows Ms. Boltos’s own conviction in 2018 for preying on six people — ranging in age from 67 to 86 — by making them believe they were engaged in romantic relationships with her and then swindling them with stories of cancer, homelessness, legal hardships and business troubles.

Ms. Boltos, who is now 40, was sentenced to 263 years in prison — to be served concurrently as 85 years — after a jury found her guilty of five counts of theft of property and one count of exploitation of an elderly person.

Mr. Hill’s lawyer, Eve Schatelowitz, called the sentence “unduly harsh,” saying some murder cases do not result in 85 years in prison. “It’s a tragic situation for everybody involved,” she said.

Prosecutors say that from January 2012 to May 2017, Ms. Boltos and Mr. Hill stole $3 million from victims, many of whom were lonely, depressed or grieving the death of a spouse.

“She was a perfect con artist,” Mr. Olmstead said. “I was really shocked to find out she was conning me because I thought it was the real thing — a romantic relationship. But no, she was playing me like a sucker.”

Ms. Boltos’s lawyers had argued that the people she met had given her money voluntarily.

“She didn’t hold a gun to anybody’s head,” said Blake Burns, who represented Ms. Boltos in an unsuccessful appeal last year. “They didn’t lose the capacity to say no to her, even though her stories weren’t true. ‘I don’t want to give you money’ was a response that none of them seemed to come up with.”

Prosecutors said Ms. Boltos, who has been referred to by the district attorney’s office and the local media as the “sweetheart swindler,” used similar tactics to deceive all of her victims.

She would meet people over 65 — on a dating website, on an airplane or in a store. She would begin a relationship with them, talking to them about God, love and her desire to be with them and see them raise her children, prosecutors said. Then she would come up with scenarios in which she and her “brother” needed money immediately.

Ms. Boltos was 32 when she met Danny Barnett, who was 72, at a post office in January 2012, according to court records. Although they never lived together, they married about four months later, after Ms. Boltos said she needed health insurance to cover her cancer surgeries, prosecutors said.

Mr. Barnett bought Ms. Boltos a house, where she lived with Mr. Hill and her three children, court papers state. Mr. Barnett bought her a car and gave his Social Security and workers’ compensation checks to her.

When he was hospitalized and “did not appear to have his mental faculties,” she secured a power of attorney over his affairs, the court papers said. After Mr. Barnett died in 2016, she used her status as his wife to receive the proceeds of his life insurance policy, prosecutors said. In total, she took $353,923 from him, prosecutors said.

Lori Varnell, chief of the elder financial fraud unit at the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s office, said the authorities were able to recover two cars that had been stolen from the victims, but none of their money. She said Ms. Boltos and Mr. Hill had spent millions of dollars at casinos.

Mr. Olmstead said that by taking most of his life savings, Ms. Boltos and Mr. Hill denied him the freedom to do a lot of the things that he had hoped to do in retirement, like fix up his house and buy an airplane. They also took advantage of his affection for her and his desire to help her and her three children, he said.

“They come into your life,” he said. “They trample over everything that is sacred in your life. You really feel like a real fool. I felt like a real fool. I got emotionally involved with her and emotions override common sense.”

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