Prosecutors criticized after case against alleged gold coin thief dropped

Becky Campbell • Apr 4, 2014 at 11:08 PM

A gold coin theft charge was dismissed against a Unicoi County woman Friday because the victim had died and prosecutors said there was little evidence to prove the case.

But the victim’s last living relative said prosecutors here “dropped the ball.”

The woman, Leisa Lynn Bernadi, 57, was charged in 2012 with stealing more than $10,000 worth of gold coins from 84-year-old William Foley, of Johnson City, who died in December.

Foley’s brother-in-law, Walter Miller, said he contacted District Attorney General Tony Clark, who Miller said promised him he’d check into the situation, but he never heard from Clark.

“I talked to Tony (Clark) once ... he promised me he’d talk to (Assistant District Attorney) Mr. (Fred) Lance and get back to me. He never did,” Miller said.

Clark, when asked about the case and conversation with Miller, said he spoke to the man but didn’t have time to get back to him because the man called back the following day.

“I wasn’t even in the office that day,” Clark said. When Clark talked to Lance, the prosecutor who handled the case, Lance cited the lack of evidence, particularly since Foley had died.

“She was a caretaker and/or friend. ... They were both on the bank account, they were both on the safe deposit box,” Clark said. “Legally they both have what’s in those accounts.”

Clark did agree that Bernadi likely took advantage of the elderly Foley.

“He’s purchased a car for her. He, in whatever capacity, allowed her to be on accounts. Do I think the woman took advantage of the man? Yes, I do. But when you look at the evidence ... it’s not there.

“I do feel Fred made the right decision. Taking it to trial, I don’t think that was prudent with the evidence we had,” Clark said.

At a preliminary hearing in the case, Clark said Foley could not identify who took his gold coins.

“It wasn’t because this man passed away,” that it was dismissed, “but it was the evidence after he testified at the preliminary hearing. We didn’t have a case to say she took this money without his consent.

“He gave her permission to do some things, but he didn’t give her permission to do other things. We couldn’t differentiate whether she had consent or if she didn’t have consent,” Clark said.

Miller said his brother-in-law hired Bernadi to help him take care of himself, not take his money.

“I know Bill (Foley) had his problems and created some of his own problems, but they have a case,” Miller said.

“He had put her name on the safe deposit box. They got into an argument and she went and cleaned out the box,” Miller said.

He said Bernadi took uncirculated half-ounce gold coins from the box and cashed most of them in — 148 worth $130,000 — at Southern Gold.

Thirty coins were located at the gold purchasing company, but Miller said there are still 13 unaccounted for.

The gold coin theft is the only charge Bernadi faced, but Miller said there were other financial mishaps he believes she was responsible for doing.

“Bill was his own worst enemy. He had dementia and he was lonely. He started having hallucinations and he’d call the police saying there was people were coming in his house playing the TV real loud.”

Still, Miller is firm that the police had a case against Bernadi and feels that Foley’s death shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail card for the woman.

“I think it’s a shame and disgrace a girl can do that and the district attorney just turn her loose,” Miller said.

Follow Becky Campbell on Twitter @CampbellinCourt. Like her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeckyCampbellJCPress.

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