Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Woman accused of gambling in-laws' savings enters no-contest plea in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — Laverne Dennison didn't believe a judge should be lenient on his daughter-in-law if a jury found her guilty of gambling away nearly all of the life savings he had planned to use to take care of his ailing wife, Janet.

"Our dad asked for 20 years," said Vera Cannon, one of Laverne and Janet's six children.

During a hearing Monday in Hernando County Circuit Court, Cannon and her siblings learned that Jennifer Dennison will not spend that long in prison for siphoning more than $500,000 from her in-laws and losing it in casino slot machines.

Dennison, 44, pleaded no contest to one count of grand theft of $50,000 or more from a person older than 65. The count is a first-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

As part of a plea agreement, however, Dennison will serve no more than 10 years in prison. Chief Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr. approved the agreement and set Dennison's sentencing hearing for Nov. 14.

Dressed in a black suit, Dennison answered Merritt's questions in a quiet voice during Monday's hearing. All of Laverne and Janet's children except Jennifer's ex-husband, Scott, of Brooksville, watched from the gallery.

Statutory guidelines call for a minimum prison term of 21 months for Dennison, who has no prior criminal record. Prosecutors are happy with the deal, Assistant State Attorney Jarod Gilbert said after the hearing.

"It saves resources, and she's accepted responsibility," Gilbert said.

Merritt could depart from the required minimum prison term if he decides mitigating circumstances justify it. Dennison's attorney, Bruce Denson of St. Petersburg, said he will ask Merritt to sentence Dennison to probation without prison time.

Dennison was motivated by a gambling addiction, Denson said. She completed a residential treatment program and is now receiving outpatient treatment.

"There was no intent to steal any money," he said. "This was a pure compulsive gambling case."

Dennison will certainly be ordered to pay restitution to the family. And it would be difficult for her to do that if she spends several years in prison, Denson noted.

"Our hope is that she can be gainfully employed and make some strides in that effort," he said.

The siblings reject the notion that Dennison simply fell victim to a compulsion.

Between the fall of 2008 and summer 2010, investigators say, Jennifer forged Laverne's name on checks, drained at least six of her in-laws' bank accounts and cashed in a pair of the couple's life-insurance policies that totaled $36,000.

"She had to gather this money methodically and slowly and deliberately," said Debbie Palmer, one of the couple's daughters. "Piece by piece, she emptied these accounts."

Janet Dennison, now 75, suffers from advanced dementia and needs around-the-clock care. Laverne took care of her for some 14 years before he died of cancer in August 2011 at age 89. Janet now stays at Heartland of Brooksville, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility.

As a retired postal worker, Janet brings in $2,400 a month — too much to be eligible for Medicaid to cover Heartland's roughly $6,800 monthly cost, Cannon said. Heartland has agreed to defer billing while the family seeks legal help to win Medicaid approval.

The siblings said Dennison never apologized to their parents.

Denson said his client is "extremely remorseful."

"She realizes it's ruined her family's life."

Comments
Bed bugs found in books at Brandon library branch

Bed bugs found in books at Brandon library branch

BRANDON — The unwelcome appearance of a lowly insect is forcing county officials to close the Brandon library branch for three days.No, not bookworms. Bed bugs.The county is bringing in a pest control company to inspect and treat the 25,000-square fo...
Updated: 7 minutes ago

Updated: 12 minutes ago
Age is a valued number for motocross rider Chad Reed

Age is a valued number for motocross rider Chad Reed

Chad Reed is set to break one of the most impressive records in motorsports, but it’s not the mark he wants most.The Dade City resident and native Australian has started 227 main events in the Monster Energy Supercross 450 cc series, tying former rid...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Man charged with killing wife who disappeared at sea

Man charged with killing wife who disappeared at sea

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A man who claimed his wife disappeared at sea when their boat collided with an unknown object near the Bahamas was charged Tuesday with killing her and intentionally trying to sink the vessel to cover his tracks.Lewis Bennett...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Goodman: The triumph of the ‘Perennials’

Goodman: The triumph of the ‘Perennials’

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School north of Fort Lauderdale in Parkland, a teacher, two coaches and 14 teenagers were living the American dream before they were targeted in what became our nation’s nightmare.There are no words to console a griev...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Louisville must vacate 2013 basketball title, NCAA denies appeal

Louisville must vacate 2013 basketball title, NCAA denies appeal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville must vacate its 2013 men’s basketball title following an NCAA appeals panel’s decision to uphold sanctions against the men’s program in the sex scandal case. The Cardinals will have to vacate 123 victories including the c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Guess co-founder steps aside after allegations from Kate Upton

Guess co-founder steps aside after allegations from Kate Upton

Associated PressNEW YORK — Guess Inc. says that co-founder Paul Marciano will give up his day-to-day responsibilities at the clothing company until a sexual misconduct investigation is completed. Model and actress Kate Upton told Time magazine earlie...
Updated: 1 hour ago
County gives initial support to adding deputies at Hernando elementary schools

County gives initial support to adding deputies at Hernando elementary schools

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday informally supported adding as many as 10 school resource officers in county schools, including one for every elementary school, in an effort to bolster security in the wake of the deadly school...
Updated: 1 hour ago
She drove drunk with a child in the backseat, deputies say. She said she ‘just got out of rehab’

She drove drunk with a child in the backseat, deputies say. She said she ‘just got out of rehab’

A Miami woman is accused of driving intoxicated with a child in the back seat of her car — and she told a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy that she "just got out of rehab," according to arrest recordsStephanie Roque, 30, was traveling through Welli...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Neighbor stunned after woman, 71, raped in ‘safe’ Pasco neighborhood

Neighbor stunned after woman, 71, raped in ‘safe’ Pasco neighborhood

NEW PORT RICHEY— Iris Ramos couldn’t sleep Monday night.Ramos, 70, lives four doors down from a house at 7437 Heather St., where Pasco County deputies reported a home invasion and rape of a 71-year-old woman Monday morning. Ramos had helped the woman...
Updated: 2 hours ago