Moapa Justice of the Peace Ruth Kolhoss, presiding in Mesquite Municipal Court on Monday, sentenced Starr Flores to one year in jail.
Flores also must reimburse the $745.26 she wrung out of the generosity of Virgin Valley residents and businesses. She also was ordered to serve 500 hours of community service with a cancer-related organization in the community and obtain mental health counseling.
Her lawyer Jess Marchese, expressed surprize at the verdict. The Las Vegas criminal attorney said he usually doesn’t handle cases like this, but in his experience, he had never seen jail time given in a case for “this small amount of money.”
True, the amount of money Flores swindled out of the community didn’t rise to felony levels. But she stole much more and did far more damage than you could put a dollar figure on.
Several of her victims testified how Flores played on their sympathies.
Corey Hansen had lost his son to cancer, and after learning her mother had developed breast cancer, his daughter committed suicide. A local support group put out collection cans to help his family.
But when the Hansens saw the collection jars for Flores’ 7-year-old son along side of theirs, and heard how he was fighting a rare form of liver cancer, they donated all of the money raised for them to her.
Another victim, Holly Brown, met Flores through her Facebook effort to raise money. She met in person with Flores and became friends.
She staged car washes and garage sales to help the family. She said that was the first time she had ever gotten so involved personally in helping someone else.
She told the court, she wasn’t sure of she could ever do that again.
Flores didn’t just swindle money out of people, she betrayed their trust.
It’s certain that some people who had given freely when they saw her collection jars in stores about town, have given second thoughts before donating to other worthy causes. Charitable efforts in the community were tarnished by her deception, but not permanently harmed
People in Mesquite and the surrounding area give generously to charitable causes and to people in need. The pages of this newspaper are filled with those efforts, especially at the holiday season. Flores’ scam won’t change that, and charitable giving will continue.
As for the 500 hours of community service Flores must serve at a cancer-related organization, let’s hope that works out well.
In court, Flores showed no emotion nor contrition. Until such time as she does show some level of remorse, hopefully she won’t be working around any real victims of the disease.
But floors need to be cleaned, as do restrooms. Trash needs to be dumped. Cancer victims facing rising medical costs, shouldn’t be forced to see Flores and be reminded that she used their plight for her own gain.
It’s very possible, however, the greatest damage done and the victim who suffered the most from her scam was her son, Rodrigo Quintero, who was 7 at the time.
Rodrigo’s head was shaved to make him look like he was undergoing chemotherapy. And it was much easier to simply convince him that he had cancer, than get him to act the part. He would make public appearances at the car washes and other drives to raise money for him.
He thought everything his mother claimed was true, but he faced his non-existent cancer bravely.
Rodrigo likely had a strong influence on Judge Kolhoss’ decision. She told Flores, “I feel bad for your son, I have no idea how you can explain that away.”
Eventually, the boy will be old enough to understand what his mother did. He’ll forgive her, as sons do, but likely he’ll also feel a little guilt himself, something else hard to put a price tag on.
Certainly, Flores shouldn’t be forced to pay for her scam for the rest of her life. And we can all hope her mental counseling will help her turn around her life and be more considerate of the suffering of others.
Have no doubt, this was a tough case. The dollar amount was indeed small. If stolen from a cash register by a first-time offender, a sentence of a three-year probation likely would have been justified.
But Judge Kolhoss exhibited the wisdom to see the actual damage. She deserves praise for her ruling. And maybe Flores will learn something from the harshness of it.