91 year-old testifies early against former aide accused of stealing thousands

91-year-old woman testifies in advance against former aide

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A 91-year-old victim in an alleged fraud crime was called in early to testify because there is concern she won’t be able to testify, or even be alive, when the trial starts next year.

Inside the courtroom at the Hall of Justice were the judge, the lawyers, a video camera recording the testimony and 91-year-old Matilda McLeod.

McLeod’s former aide, Alpha Harris, is accused of stealing up to $60,000 from McLeod and using McLeod to buy a home in Greece.

McLeod has health and memory issues and suffered a stroke in September.

That’s why McLeod was asked by the district attorney’s office to come to court to testify on camera Monday.

McLeod testified it was the first time she’s ever been in a courtroom.

There were issues with clarity and consistency.

On the one hand, McLeod was adamant she never paid Harris more than what she agreed to pay and never agreed to buy a home in Greece.

On the other hand, McLeod had trouble identifying Harris when Harris was sitting 10 feet away from her in the courtroom. Harris was wearing glasses and a mask.

“Did you ever intend to take a mortgage out for Alpha Harris?” asked prosecutor Ryan Lamon.

“Absolutely no,” McLeod answered.

“Were you every going to live in that home?”

“No,” McLeod testified. “I have a home.”

“Did you give permission to Alpha Harris to take money outside your agreement (with her)?” Lamon asked.

“Absolutely no,” she said.

When Harris’ lawyer questioned McLeod, McLeod couldn’t pinpoint the day Harris started working for her but admitted it was hard for her to recall any dates. McLeod did say she let Harris write some of her checks because McLeod had difficulty with her hands.

Safa Robinson, defense lawyer: “You said you would let Alpha Harris write checks?”
McLeod: “Correct.”
Robinson: “So you saw the checks and the amounts?”
McLeod: “Correct.”

Based on the line of questioning, it appeared that one defense strategy is that McLeod knowingly bought the house for Harris to live in.

“What I will say is what my client is currently charged with, there’s no slam dunk case here for the DA’s office,” Robinson said in an interview after the testimony. “And so the testimony that was elicited, in my position, would certainly go to show my client’s innocence or negate what they’re alleging against her.”

When he got up to question McLeod a second time, prosecutor Lamon focused on the mortgage taken out in McLeod’s name.

Lamon: “Did you intend to live (at the home) in Greece?”
McLeod: “No.”
Lamon: “Did you intend to take out a mortgage on (the house in Greece)?”
McLeod: “Why would I? No.”

I talked to Lamon outside court after the hearing.

“Basically we are memorializing testimony of a person that can be used later at a hearing, trial or any other event should the necessary law be met,” Lamon said.

Last month, a different court ruled that McLeod owns the home in Greece outright. She is trying to sell it now to cut her losses. Harris lived in the house for a year.

The DA’s office has offered Harris a deal: plead guilty to second-degree grand larceny and mortgage fraud, pay $62,320 in restitution and get one to three years in jail.

The offer expires at the end of February, the day before another set of hearings in the case.