BROOKSVILLE — Authorities have accused Doris Siegel of defrauding friends, neighbors and even her pastor out of more than $1 million through a Nigerian-style lottery scam.
If those allegations are true, she apparently doesn't have much — if any — of that money now.
In her first court appearance Tuesday, Siegel pleaded not guilty to charges of organized fraud, money laundering and structuring financial transactions. She then had Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing declare her indigent and returned to the Hernando County Jail, not having posted her $50,000 bail.
To be released while she awaits trial, Siegel generally would need to contact a bondsman, who would ask for a 10 percent deposit — or in her case, about $5,000. Instead, Siegel will remain in custody at the jail for the foreseeable future.
Her court-appointed attorney, Devon Sharkey, declined to comment on the case. But asked about his client's financial status, Sharkey noted that the judge declared Siegel indigent.
"The fact that I'm her attorney is proof that she's broke," he said.
Brooksville police Chief George Turner said investigators aren't quite sure where the money has gone.
"We're still tracking her banking records, so there's still a lot of questions out there," Turner said Tuesday. "But to be perfectly honest with you, a lot of this doesn't make sense."
During her brief court appearance Tuesday morning, the 79-year-old Siegel wore handcuffs around her wrists and an orange jail-issued jumpsuit. She made her plea to Rushing and said little else that was audible. Then she hobbled out of the courtroom and was taken back to jail.
Siegel came to the attention of police in 2004, when she apparently was duped by a Nigerian lottery scam. She went to police, who told her that she had likely been victimized based on the correspondence she had received.
Siegel then used that information and deception, police said, to con money from other people. Inside her home, police said, they found piles of paperwork detailing how to operate a lottery scam.
According to police, Siegel approached several victims from January 2008 through this month and asked for money, claiming she had won a lottery in Holland.
Included in the group of alleged victims were neighbors, friends, a church pastor and a local businessman. Two of the alleged victims are thought to have given Siegel at least $330,000 each.
Over time, police said, Siegel allegedly transferred nearly $1.1 million in small amounts to sidestep state and federal transaction reporting requirements. She is also accused of forging the signature of her roommate, Pauline Price, to conceal some of the transactions. Price died several years ago, police said.
Additionally, Turner said investigators have evidence that Siegel convinced a friend to donate $14,000 in 2001 for a Guatemalan mission that does not exist.
Police are still investigating the case. Turner said nearly a dozen victims have been identified and they expect to hear from more as the investigation continues.
Turner also said detectives have identified a local resident who may have made several financial transactions with Siegel. Police were not prepared to identify the person yet, as they were still investigating the scope of the transactions.
"There's still large sums of money that we're tracking down," Turner said. "We want to find out if there's some criminal intent there."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.