On March 15, the continuing trial of Denise D’Sant Angelo yielded a number of witness testimonies. Accused of stealing $2,800 from Santa Barbara’s Sisters of Bethany, D’Sant Angelo — along with her defense lawyer Jeff Chambliss — heard multiple statements regarding her alleged illegal actions.
First to testify was Ernie Salomon, a member of Save Our Sisters, which was a nonprofit organization formed (with the help of D’Sant Angelo) as a means of finding alternative housing for the nuns after they were evicted to offset costs of other church-related litigation. Salomon relayed that D’Sant Angelo called him about a News-Press article that ran on October 20, 2007. Apparently, D’Sant Angelo was furious about the article, which declared that any cash solicitations occurring on State Street were in no way approved by or affiliated with Save Our Sisters. Prosecutor Brian Cota had alleged that the group’s committee decided against the practice of soliciting cash donations from people prior to D’Sant Angelo’s supposed funding requests.
Second to testify was Solvang resident Dr. Walter Hogan, the former treasurer of Save Our Sisters. While being questioned by Cota, Hogan relayed that Sister Consuelo gave him a cashier’s check for $10,600 in donations, which Hogan in turn immediately gave to D’Sant Angelo. “I held [the check] for about a minute,” Hogan said. Apparently, Hogan, despite being the organization’s treasurer, gave the cashier’s check to D’Sant Angelo because of her status as the organization’s chairperson. It was, Hogan said, “easier for her to [manage the money].”
It was revealed later on during Hogan’s testimony that D’Sant Angelo told him the $10,600 was in a safe deposit box. “The money had to be in a bank to keep it safe,” Hogan said. “As it turns out, it was not safe.” Smaller donation checks being received and then deposited into D’Sant Angelo’s personal bank account, Hogan said, was unbeknownst to him as well as the Save Our Sisters committee. After special Save Our Sisters committee meetings held at the behest of Sister Angela Escalera on October 19, 2007 and October 22, 2007, Hogan’s role as treasurer ended.
Cota and Hogan also discussed D’Sant Angelo’s affiliation with University of Southern California. Apparently, D’Sant Angelo told members of Save Our Sisters that she was a chairperson of the university’s Latino Students Association. Hogan admitted he was told by D’Sant Angelo that some USC students were raising money, and that he heard some talk of fraudulent donations.
Hogan additionally testified about money used to fly a Kentucky priest to Santa Barbara and subsequently fund his hotel accommodations. Hogan testified to paying the $639 for Father Gary’s roundtrip flight out of his own pocket, not expecting to be reimbursed by Save Our Sisters. Upon being questioned by Chambliss, Hogan also said that D’Sant Angelo paid for Father Gary’s hotel stay, apparently using donation funds. The controversy arose, however, more out of the reason for Father Gary’s trip to Santa Barbara.
It was revealed during Hogan’s testimony that Father Gary was originally slated to speak at a Mass, a choice made by a different Sisters of Bethany committee. During his trip, however, Father Gary did not speak at any Mass, merely traveling to USC in hopes of enrolling there, unbeknownst to Hogan, who believed that Save Our Sisters had asked Father Gary to come. Therefore, Cota questioned the use of nonprofit funds for what seemed like nothing more than a personal trip.
The two other witnesses, Lady Ridley-Tree of Montecito and Stephan Gonzales of Santa Barbara, also spoke of their suspicion of D’Sant Angelo. Involved in multiple local nonprofits, Ridley-Tree admitted to sending a $200 check to the Sisters of Bethany, the memo line for which read “housing only in SB,” and did not intend for her donation to be used outside of the church.
Gonzales, a drug and alcohol counselor and longtime friend of Sister Angela Escalera, spoke of allegedly overhearing D’Sant Angelo discuss the Save Our Sisters committee. While shopping at a consignment store around Halloween 2007, Gonzales described seeing a middle-aged woman of average height with black hair and glasses in the store. According to Gonzales, the woman, whom he believes to be D’Sant Angelo, was asking for cash donations. Being close to Sister Angela Escalera, Gonzales relayed to her the sighting, arousing suspicions about D’Sant Angelo. According to Chambliss, a previous interview with Gonzales reveals him describing the woman differently.
The trial continues today, March 16.