Former school board member convicted of defrauding frail elderly neighbor
By Ian White
CONTROVERSIAL former school trustee Shirley Fanuiel was due to be sentenced on Tuesday in a felony-theft case punishable by a prison sentence of up to 99 years.
Fanuiel, left, who was a trustee at La Marque independent school district for many years, was found guilty on Thursday of stealing real estate and an annuity together worth between $100,000 and $200,000 from near neighbor Wade Watkins, who was in his 80s and was suffering declining mental health.
Prosecuting counsel assistant district attorney Robert Buss told judge John Ellisor during a six-day bench trial in Galveston’s 122nd district court that Fanuiel, 67, had obtained a general power of attorney over Watkins, who was about 83 at the time, on June 22, 2009, and transferred ownership of his annuity to herself the same day.
Several weeks later, she obtained the deed to his home eight blocks from her own home at 1819 Rosalee Street, La Marque. Watkins, believed to have been a lifelong friend of her family, was made a ward of the county’s social services department in 2011 and died in 2013.
A spokesman for the DA’s office said on Monday: “According to the evidence presented, Shirley Fanuiel did nothing that benefited the victim after she obtained his annuity and home. The victim moved into an elderly friend’s home down the street before being taken to a doctor by a different friend during the summer of 2010. The doctor diagnosed the victim with advanced dementia and noted that the victim was totally incapacitated.”
The office’s major fraud section began an investigation into the matter after receiving a citizen’s complaint and the defendant was indicted in her full name of Shirley Ann Fanuiel in March 2014.
According to the DA’s office, the range of punishment for first-degree felony theft begins at five years and also includes probation.
The office did not give Watkins’ address but the central appraisal district shows that Fanuiel owns 2622 Rosalee, in the block where he was said to have lived by prosecutors at the time of her indictment. According to the appraisal district, she owns a further seven properties in the city in addition to her home.
Fanuiel first joined the school board in 1995 and soon made enemies of other members, notably Don Singleton, as well as former College Of The Mainland board chair Bennie Mathews and the chamber of commerce’s late president Jimmy Hayley, for her outspoken views.
She also had a checkered membership history, first failing to complete her re-election application in 2012 and running into another re-election glitch last year. On the first occasion, she was reappointed by the board after no one else stood for her seat. It appears that, in 2015, a procedural misunderstanding caused her absence from another re-election ballot but, in any case, by then the board was months from being
dissolved by the state’s education commissioner.
In her professional life, she was for many years one of three economists in the planning and regulatory department at the Galveston branch of the US Army Corps Of Engineers.
While there, she was the subject of a protracted dispute in which an officer responsible for signing her time sheets refused to do so citing unwillingness to be terminated for corroborating fraudulent documents after noticing that, on many days, Fanuiel spent several hours out of the office while claiming to be present and working.