Crime

They married despite a 40-year age difference. He died penniless. Now she’s on trial

Desiree Boltos ‘Sweetheart Swindler’ trial

Prosecutor Lori Varnell makes her opening statement in the Desiree Boltos "Sweetheart Swindler" trial. Boltos is accused of scamming six elderly people out of $1.6 million.
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Prosecutor Lori Varnell makes her opening statement in the Desiree Boltos "Sweetheart Swindler" trial. Boltos is accused of scamming six elderly people out of $1.6 million.

When they met at a Hurst post office, Danny Ray Barnett was 72 and Desiree Boltos, 32.

What followed was a whirlwind marriage that prosecutors say sucked dry all of Barnett’s savings, leaving him penniless and living alone in an almost bare apartment by the time of his death in March 2016. Boltos, meanwhile, lived in a nearly half-million-dollar house that Barnett bought her.

For six years, prosecutors Lori Varnell and Ty Stimpson allege, Boltos teamed up with her common-law husband, Paul Hill, to scam Barnett and five other elderly victims - a con commonly referred to as a “sweetheart swindler.”

In all, prosecutors allege Boltos netted $1.6 million in money and vehicles.

“The real art of the con — what this case is truly about — is this right here, stealing the life savings of the elderly that enables you to live that life of prosperity even though you did nothing to earn it,” Varnell told jurors in opening statements Tuesday.

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Desiree Boltos Tarrant County Sheriff's Office

Boltos, now 37, is charged with five theft counts and one count of exploitation of an elderly person.

If convicted, she faces up to life in prison.

Hill, 40, is awaiting trial on charges of theft of property, money laundering and theft of service.

Defense attorney Joetta Keene asked jurors not to judge the relationships that Boltos had with others, reminding them “it’s a free country” and that even elderly people can date whom they want and spend their money how they please.

“Dating is different than normal life,” Keene told jurors. “This is not a case of a financial adviser who says, ‘Give me your money, and I’ll make it back.’ This is dating.”

She also pointed out Adult Protective Services, as well as other law enforcement agencies, investigated Boltos but none took action against the woman.

From frugal to penniless

Marilyn Ewell, a lifelong friend of Barnett’s, testified Tuesday that although Barnett was frugal — rarely spending money on material things for himself — he was also easily manipulated and kind to others.

A month after meeting Barnett at the post office, Ewell testified, Boltos asked Barnett to marry her. Boltos needed to be on Barnett’s insurance, Ewell testified, because she reportedly had cancer.

Ewell said Barnett would give Boltos $500,000 to cover the cost of five surgeries she said she needed.

The couple would marry four months after they met, in a wedding that neither Barnett’s family nor friends were invited to attend.

Kristen Kitchen, Barnett’s niece, testified that she drove by Boltos’ former house in Hurst, where the wedding took place, with plans to “stop it.”

“There were a lot of cars parked outside. It was a little intimidating. We were obviously outnumbered, so we didn’t approach the situation,” Kitchen testified.

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Defendant Desiree Boltos talking with her defense attorney Joetta Keene. Steve Wilson swilson@star-telegram

Despite concerns expressed by both Kitchen and Ewell, Barnett would buy Boltos a Cadillac Escalade and a house in North Richland Hills worth more than $400,000.

In a note Barnett wrote to the mortgage company, he expressed excitement at starting life with his “new family.”

But he would never live in the new house with Boltos. Instead, she lived there with her children and Hill, a man she had introduced as her brother but who others testified Tuesday was really her common-law husband and the father of her children.

“He didn’t see her for 10 months after he signed for that house,” Ewell testified.

Ewell testified financial records she later saw showed Barnett “was penniless by September of 2014.”

Ewell testified Boltos was in Las Vegas and never visited when Barnett was hospitalized with a broken ankle.

Tommy Grindell, another friend of Barnett’s, testified he never saw Boltos visit Barnett at the apartment. Grindell said he was the one who would make Barnett lunches, do his laundry and help him get cleaned up.

“He said she’d come over one or two in the morning and pick his pockets and get money and go through his phone,” Grindell said.

Barnett had gone to Grindell’s home to get help changing his diaper when he fell and hit his head on Feb. 29, 2016.

He was hospitalized and died three days later.

When Barnett was still alive, Ewell said, she repeatedly tried to warn him about Boltos but he wouldn’t listen. Fearful for his safety, she eventually did her own research, and made reports with both Adult Protective Services and the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.

“I tried to counsel Danny and ask for help from everybody,” Ewell testified. “... He was so easily manipulated, and he felt sorry for Desiree. He thought she had cancer, and he wanted to help feed her children.”

“... He was just the most simple-minded child-like person I’d ever met and the nicest and the kindest.”

Testimony of second alleged victim

J.R. Olmstead, an 80-year-old self-proclaimed “lifelong bachelor,” testified Tuesday that he went out twice with Boltos in late October or early November 2012 after she bumped into him at an Office Depot.

He said Boltos later told him she didn’t know if he was the man for her and that she’d call him.

Olmstead said he didn’t hear from Boltos for several weeks - until January 2013, when she called him again to say they could see each other again but he would have to help her financially.

He said she had him meet her at her new residence in North Richland Hills, which he described as much nicer than the Hurst house in which she’d previously been living in. She told him the house belonged to Barnett, whom she described as a friend who was letting her stay there.

Olmstead said he helped Boltos with expenses ranging from utilities and food to legal expenses in Las Vegas for a probate case involving a wealthy woman that Boltos told him had raised her.

“Within a month or two, boy, I was spending money like a drunk sailor,” Olmstead testified.

Olmstead will continue to testify Wednesday morning when the trial resumes in Criminal District Court No. 3.

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