SHARON – District Judge Dennis M. Songer held charges of theft over to Mercer County Court of Common Pleas against a mother and daughter accused of stealing close to a half-million dollars from their relative's estate.
Roseann Sanoski, 60, and Cheryl Rose Sanoski, 36, both of 5360 Lamor Road, Hermitage, are charged with theft, theft by deception and conspiracy. The two are accused of stealing money from the estate of Joanne M. Totin, who was Roseann Sanoski's mother and Cheryl Sanoski's grandmother.
The crimes are alleged to have taken place in Sharpsville, where Joanne Totin lived before her death in September.
Andrew J. Totin, Roseann Sanoski's brother, testified Tuesday at the preliminary hearing that he noticed suspicious charges to various accounts belonging to his mother after her death. Andrew Totin and his sister were granted power of attorney for Joanne Totin in 2017, which allowed them to represent — including making financial decisions — on their mother's behalf if she was incapable of making them on her own.
But Andrew Totin did not have anything to do with his mother's finances until he checked into them after her death, he testified.
Totin said his mother's will dictated that his mother's assets were to be split equally among the three siblings — him, Roseann Sanoski and their brother, James Totin.
Andrew Totin and detectives testified that Cheryl Sanoski changed the terms of a $125,000 insurance policy to name Roseann Sanoski sole beneficiary of the account. By excluding the two Totin brothers, the policy violated the power-of-attorney document and Joanne Totin's will.
Mercer County's chief detective, Francis H. Grolemund Jr., testified that the women took about $292,000 from Joanne Totin's financial accounts and $125,000 with the life insurance policy. Grolemund said Joanne Totin's signature was on the insurance policy change-of-beneficiary form in which Roseann Sanoski was named as the sole beneficiary.
"I don't believe Joanne Totin signed and changed the beneficiary when she was desperately ill in June 2020," Grolemund said.
Grolemund testified that video shows Roseann and Cheryl Sanoski making large ATM withdrawals from Joanne Totin's account, and that the withdrawals coincide with times that the Sanoskis were gambling at a casino in Ohio.
The Sanoskis' attorneys contend that the women took care of Joann Totin around the clock in her last year of life, and that some of the spending was used to pay healthcare workers. They also said that Andrew Totin was making theft allegations against his sister and niece because Joanne Totin gave them more money than she gave him.
"When she needed help, she turned to her daughter and granddaughter," said Lisa Mantella, Roseann Sanoski's defense attorney.
Mantella argued that Joanne Totin was of sound mind and that she was allowed to spend her money however she wanted. The attorney characterized the expenditure of $275,000 over four years as normal. The Sanoskis made purchases from Walmart, D'Onofrio's Food Center, Sam's Club and Amazon, among others, that were all made for Joanne Totin and with her approval.
"There's not one iota of evidence to show they spent money fraudulently," Mantella told the judge.
Jonathan Fodi, attorney for Cheryl Sanoski, said the prosecution cannot prove that his client took any money from Totin, and asked the judge to dismiss the charges.
"There's no evidence that she couldn't make her own mind up," Fodi said of Joanne Totin. "It's not uncommon for people to spend money at the end of their lives."
Fodi also said no one is even sure how the money was spent.
"This is the most serious accusation and there's no documentation," Fodi said.
Assistant District Attorney Jacob Sander said the prosecution met its burden of probable cause for a preliminary hearing in district court.
"These expenses are suspicious. It's not how a woman her age would be spending," Sander said. "None of this makes sense."
Songer said the prosecution met its burden of proof, which is low in district court. In common pleas court, they will have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to win a conviction.
Songer scheduled the common pleas arraignment for the mother-daughter duo for Aug. 10.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
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