Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of Cass County, Missouri The Honorable
William B. Collins, Judge
Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, Lisa White
Hardwick, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge.
D. Witt, Judge.
Christopher ("Christopher") appeals his conviction
of the offense of financial exploitation of the elderly
pursuant to section 570.145. Christopher argues that the trial
court erred in dismissing his motion for acquittal because
there was insufficient evidence by which a jury could convict
him. Christopher also argues that the trial court abused its
discretion in overruling his objection to the admission of
evidence regarding money cards and copies of some of the
victim Ed Burnham's ("Burnham") financial
records. We affirm.
and Procedural History
met Burnham in 2011, when Burnham was 92 years old and
Christopher was approximately 24 or 25 years
The two became friends while Christopher was doing work in
Burnham's neighborhood. In the beginning, Christopher
helped Burnham around his home with odd jobs, such as
replacing light bulbs, installing a garbage disposal, and
removing a tree from his backyard. Burnham paid Christopher
for his work.
was unemployed during most of the relevant period and had a
difficult time finding employment. Christopher also had a
gambling addiction, which Burnham knew about. Christopher and
Burnham would meet at Burnham's home three or four times
a week, and Christopher would call Burnham often when he was
in need of money. As time went on, the amount of money
Christopher requested and the frequency of his requests for
money both increased.
testified that he and Christopher had a misunderstanding
regarding whether the money given to Christopher by Burnham
were loans or gifts. Many, but not all, of the checks that
Burnham wrote to Christopher were denominated thereon as
"loan" or "loan Joshua [Christopher]."
Burnham expected Christopher to pay back the loans.
Christopher did make some payments to Burnham at various
times but would shortly thereafter request more money from
Burnham. Over the course of their dealings, Christopher did
pay back approximately $24, 269.79 of the over $300, 000 that
he received. During many conversations, Christopher would
tell Burnham that he was trying to get a job to "pay
back the money" or "repay the money that he
owed." Christopher told Burnham that he was going to
receive money from helping a friend run a restaurant or he
was about to inherit money from his grandmother in Italy.
beginning, Burnham got cash from Commerce Bank and Bank of
America to loan to Christopher. Burnham also had two
brokerage accounts on which he had check writing privileges,
one of which was with Morgan Stanley. On one occasion,
Burnham attempted to get money for Christopher from his
Commerce Bank account, but Commerce Bank suspected something
inappropriate was going on because of the quantity of
withdrawals he had made and the number of checks written to
Christopher. Christopher told Burnham he was being held in
police custody in the Topeka area, which Burnham conveyed to
Commerce Bank. Commerce Bank called to verify
Christopher's story and found out that he was not in
custody where he claimed. Commerce Bank then informed Burnham
they could not continue his account due to the trouble
concerning Burnham's money transfers. Burnham moved his
account to Wells Fargo. Commerce Bank also alerted the
Department of Health and Senior Services to what had happened
and that they suspected Burnham was being taken advantage of.
The Department of Health and Senior Services contacted both
Burnham and Christopher and urged Burnham to stop helping
least two occasions, Christopher told Burnham that he had
"lost" a check that Burnham had given him, and
Burnham gave him a "replacement" check, only to
find that Christopher had cashed both the original and
replacement checks. One of these checks was for the sum of
$4, 700 and the other was for $8, 000.
also taught Burnham how to get money to him through the use
of money cards. The money cards allowed Burnham to purchase
cards in $500 increments and he then would call Christopher
with the number on the card, allowing Christopher to redeem
the money wherever he was. Because there was a limit on how
many money cards could be purchased at Wal-Mart on a
particular day, Burnham also bought money cards from CVS
went on, Burnham wrote checks to Christopher out of his
Morgan Stanley brokerage account. On occasion there was not
enough cash in the account, forcing stocks to be sold to
cover those checks. Burnham had to take a personal loan from
Wells Fargo, secured by his investments, to cover all the
checks that he was writing. Burnham's nephew, Herbert
Burnham ("Herbert"),  was notified by Morgan Stanley
when Burnham's account managers became concerned with his
unusual increase in activity. Herbert stepped in to take over
Burnham's financial affairs in June 2013. Burnham's
check writing privileges with Morgan Stanley were
unclear how much exactly was owed to Burnham due to the
seemingly arbitrary designation between what was and was not
denominated as a loan. Over the course of two and one half
years, Burnham claims Christopher was loaned $344, 266.44.
Herbert testified that, based on his review of the records,
the total was "$325, 000 and change, " while
Christopher claims Burnham was only owed $100, 267.97.
Christopher claimed most of the money transfers were gifts
rather than loans.
Herbert notified the authorities about these transactions,
Christopher was interviewed by a detective with the
sheriff's department. Christopher waived his
Mirandarights orally and in writing. Christopher
said that he had done some odd jobs for Burnham and that,
while they did not have a specific agreement for payment,
Burnham always paid him for the work. Christopher also stated
that he would contact Burnham to borrow money or would just
ask for money and that Burnham had loaned him some money over
time. He stated he had promised on many occasions to repay
the money to Burnham and that on many occasions Burnham had
contacted him regarding when he would be able to pay back the
borrowed money. Christopher indicated he had made some
payments to Burnham and that he had tried to repay some of
the money. When the detective asked him how he intended to
repay Burnham, Christopher indicated he had other rich
friends or wealthy individuals from whom he could obtain the
money if needed. Christopher stated that he was a gambling
addict, he was having trouble controlling his addiction, and
that at times he had lied to Burnham about why he needed
money. Christopher estimated that he had received
"somewhere close to a half a million dollars" from
Burnham but that he should only have to repay "somewhere
just shy of $200, 000" because the remainder constituted
gifts and not loans. He indicated that he believed his debt
from the loans was approximately $180, 000.
December 12, 2013, charges were filed against Christopher in
the Cass County Circuit Court. The case proceeded to jury
trial in September of 2015 on one count of the Class A felony
of Financial Exploitation of the Elderly with a value in
excess of $50, 000, in violation of section 570.145.
the trial, the State sought to introduce into evidence
photocopies of checks from Burnham's Morgan Stanley
account. While Burnham testified that it was his handwriting
on the checks, there were little black areas underneath each
check where Burnham said the amount of each check had been
listed by the bank. Burnham believed that the originals had
been highlighted by Herbert and the black areas were caused
from the copying of the highlighted portions. However,
Burnham was not with Herbert during the highlighting.
Christopher objected, claiming that the exhibit was not a
fair and accurate reproduction of the documents at the time
they were created. The trial court overruled the objection
and admitted the evidence.
after Burnham testified regarding the use of money cards,
defense counsel approached the bench and objected that the
information regarding the money cards from Wal-Mart and CVS
pharmacy was not disclosed to Christopher in discovery,
creating "a Brady violation." The trial court
overruled the objection.
September 3, 2015, the jury found Christopher guilty of the
class A felony of financial exploitation of the elderly under
section 570.145 with the value of the property of $50, 000 or
more. Christopher was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment
and ordered to pay $100, 000 in ...