Tuesday, 09 August 2022

EXCLUSIVE: 'Person of interest' in 2002 LaForge murder sentenced to prison for probation violation

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Linda Ann Mafrice, sentenced to state prison for a violation of probation stemming from two criminal cases filed in 2002, is a person of interest in the 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge, according to the Lakeport Police Department. Lake County Jail booking photo.






LAKEPORT, Calif. – A woman who police said is a person of interest in the 2002 Barbara LaForge murder has been sentenced to state prison for failing to repay more than $44,000 in restitution and violating probation in two cases charged at around the time LaForge was shot to death.


Linda Ann Mafrice, 55, a massage therapist from Kelseyville, was transported to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation this week after Judge Andrew Blum sentenced her to four years and eight months in state prison earlier this month.


“She is a person of interest in the murder of Barbara LaForge,” Lakeport Police Det. Lou Riccardi, who was in court for Mafrice's sentencing, told Lake County News.


Riccardi's statement accounts for the first time the Lakeport Police Department has publicly identified a person of interest in the case since LaForge was found fatally shot in her downtown Lakeport frame shop on Oct. 8, 2002.


The 43-year-old LaForge was shot multiple times at close range with a .22 caliber weapon that has never been found.

 

LaForge's murder is the city's only unsolved homicide.


On Dec. 3, Judge Blum sentenced Mafrice to prison for theft from an elder, grand theft and forgery, charges which arose from two separate criminal filings.


On Aug. 3, 2002, the District Attorney's Office filed three counts against Mafrice – theft from an elder, theft by a forged or invalid access card and forgery.


Then on Oct. 9, 2002, the day after LaForge's murder, the District Attorney's Office filed a case against Mafrice alleging 90 counts, most of them forgery, along with grand theft, which were alleged to have taken place between February 2000 and Aug. 28, 2002, against the Royale Shores Homeowners Association. She was arrested two days later, court records show.


Most of the charges in that second case were dismissed via a Harvey waiver, meaning they could be considered in sentencing but would not be prosecuted.


Mafrice would eventually be sentenced to five years probation and 300 days in jail on the three remaining charges, which she was convicted of in July 2004. She also was sentenced to 200 hours of community service, which court records appear to indicate were never served.


Her sentencing then – as more recently – was delayed by reports of mental and physical health issues. At one point early in the case, she brought a forged doctor's note to court asking for her probation to be modified, according to District Attorney Jon Hopkins in a 2007 interview. A document in Mafrice's file showed her admitting the forgery to the court.


The terms of her probation specified that she was to pay back restitution totaling $113,116.07 to Royale Shores, with credit for $65,000 that she had already paid back. She also was to pay back the elderly woman she had defrauded $1,723.


But time went by, and the restitution to Royale Shores was not fully repaid, court documents showed.


Then, on Oct. 27, 2009, just weeks before her probation was set to expire, Judge Richard Martin issued a $50,000 bench warrant for her arrest for violation of probation because of the unpaid restitution.


Riccardi – a homicide detective from San Mateo County who moved to Lake County after his retirement – was brought in on a special assignment in 2009 to work on the LaForge case.


He said Mafrice is a person of interest because of her relationship with Dan Hamblin, LaForge's husband.


Mafrice and Hamblin were reportedly romantically involved before LaForge's October 2002 murder.


In a 2007 interview, retired Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom told Lake County News that Mafrice was seen packing LaForge's possessions into garbage bags at LaForge's Piner Court home on the day of her 2002 funeral.


In the wake of the recent election, the LaForge investigation appears to have gained a new and important ally.


District Attorney-elect Don Anderson told Lake County News that he is very interested in the case, and plans to meet with Riccardi and Det. Destry Henderson, who also has been assigned to the investigation, to go over the case's details.


Riccardi said a $50,000 reward offered by the Governor's Office remains in place for anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case.


The Lakeport Police Department, which is hosting a series of town halls, will devote a February gathering to giving the community an update on the LaForge homicide investigation.


Neighbor speaks about case


A former neighbor of Mafrice's at Royale Shores helped bring the embezzlement cases to the attention of police.


The woman, who asked not to be named due to concerns for her safety, said Mafrice lived in a unit at Royale Shores owned by a family member, and was the association's onsite property manager at the time when the forgeries and thefts took place.


The neighbor said her name and the name of another person had been forged on checks by Mafrice, who was alleged to have been taking large sums of money from the association for about a year before it was discovered.


Although Mafrice was not supposed to be handling money, “She found a way to get to it,” the neighbor said.


“She knew how to play everybody,” said the woman. “She was very good at what she did.”


The issue with the elderly victim in the other criminal case was happening at the same time, and the neighbor warned the woman's family about Mafrice, who had been caregiving for the woman. That led to the first filing in August 2002, with the larger case involving Royale Shores filed two months later.


The neighbor alleged that members of Mafrice's family were harassing the elderly woman at the center of the first case.


The neighbor said the homeowners association had money in the bank from a lawsuit it had won relating to building defects, and was preparing to use the money for repairs.


“We were in the throes of determining what we needed to do and what needed to be done first,” she said.


The money that Mafrice took was to have been used for a new roof, new decks and other repairs. The woman said the association has since managed to move forward with the repair work.


Mafrice moved from Royale Shores and in with Hamblin within about a week of the LaForge murder, the neighbor estimated.


“There were no secrets there,” the woman noted, explaining that Hamblin had been at the condominium a lot, and Mafrice had purchased him a motorcycle.


A lengthy court process


During the year following Mafrice's October 2009 arrest for violation of probation, she would be scheduled for five different hearings – including pleas and continuations.


In a hearing before Blum on Aug. 27, Mafrice admitted to a violation of her probation by not paying her restitution to Royale Shores in a timely manner. Blum told her she could face a maximum prison sentence of five years, four months for the violations.


At that time, Blum ordered Mafrice to pay the remainder of the restitution by Dec. 3.


Just a few months before, Hamblin – with whom Mafrice has lived since late 2002 – had been awarded $24,931.85 from Stonebridge Life Insurance Co. for a life insurance policy on LaForge, according to court documents.


When Mafrice appeared Dec. 3, her attorney, Stephen Carter, asked for a continuation until Jan. 24, saying that the funds would not be available until later in December.


In turn, Blum read from a Lake County Probation Department report, in which the probation officer stated that he didn't have any confidence that Mafrice intended to pay the remainder of the restitution, and that her request for another continuation was “just another ploy” to delay the proceedings.


Senior Deputy District Attorney Rachel Abelson opposed the continuation based on the Probation Department report, asking for Mafrice to be remanded into custody.


Carter said he didn't think remanding her was necessary as she was trying to make arrangements to pay the funds.


But Blum, pointing out that Mafrice had six years to make payment, said of her request for a continuance, “I'm disinclined to grant it.”


Mafrice's case was put on hold for several hours that day and finally recalled just after 2 p.m.


Blum read both the original probation report from September 2004 and the most recent report from this past November.


“My inclination is to follow the recommendation” of the probation department, which Blum said was for state prison.


Carter said Mafrice still maintained that the money would be available later in December. If probation was to be denied, then he asked for less prison sentences.


Abelson argued in turn, “She has done nothing but play games with the restitution.”


“Basically, her interest is herself,” Abelson added.


Abelson said she didn't think Mafrice's promise of paying more money in the future was realistic, and she asked for the original probation proposal of prison to be imposed.


Blum, finding Mafrice in violation of her probation, ruled, “Probation is permanently revoked,” noting that she has had ample time to comply and hasn't.


Pointing out that there were two separate cases with two separate victims, Blum went on to sentence Mafrice to four years for the first count of theft from an elder, as it was a crime committed in a way that suggested professionalism and planning.


The two other counts were to run consecutively, at two years each, with all but eight months of each term stayed.


The total time given was four years, eight months. By the time credits for previous time served and good behavior are calculated, it's estimated that Mafrice will spend about two years in state prison.


She must also repay $44,681.07 to Royale Shores, plus additional administrative fines, based on Blum's ruling.


After Blum passed sentence, Mafrice was handcuffed and transported to the Lake County Jail.


It's not yet clear where Mafrice will serve her time. There are three women's prison facilities in the state, two in Chowchilla and one in Corona, according to the California Department of Corrections.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews , on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf and on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/LakeCoNews .

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