February 16, 2010 (San Diego) San Diego-California Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerryy" Brown Jr. announced last week that Mary Louise Wilson, 54, of San Diego, has been sentenced to 19 years and 4 months in prison for attempting to "kill or seriously injure" nursing home residents by setting fires at the facilities, including nursing homes in El Cajon and National City.
Her sentence marks the longest prison term that anyone convicted by the Attorney General's Office has received in an elder abuse case.
"These fires were no accident. This woman meant to kill or seriously injure dozens of disabled people," Brown said. "Residents of nursing homes are particularly vulnerable, so today's sentence is an important victory in our fight against elder abuse in California communities."
Brown's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA) was created in 1978 to uncover Medi-Cal fraud and to combat the abuse and neglect of patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Since Brown took office, BMFEA has secured 217 criminal convictions and has collected more than $1.1 million in restitution and reimbursement.
In August 2009, Brown's office, along with the National City Fire Department and the El Cajon Police Department, began an investigation into a series of fires set in nursing homes in the San Diego area.
The first incident occurred in January 2009 at El Dorado Care Center in El Cajon. Wilson, a resident of the facility, had been placed in a room with two other women. Neither of her two roommates was able to get in or out of bed without nursing assistance, and one of the women was attached to an oxygen tank.
In the middle of the night, Wilson set fire to the bed of one of her roommates while she was sleeping. A nurse heard the smoke alarm and used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire before anyone was hurt.
Four months later, Wilson, who was able to manage in a more independent environment, was transferred to Golden Paradise Senior Living, an assisted living center in National City.
Soon after being transferred, Wilson set fires in the second-floor trash chute, the first-floor dumpster and the second-floor library. She also threw burning materials down the trash chute. National City Fire Department firefighters and the building's sprinkler system put out the fires before anyone was hurt.
Investigators from Brown's office identified Wilson as a suspect by linking the fires at the two facilities. In October, she was charged with the crimes and pled guilty on January 5, 2010 to:
- Two counts of attempted murder;
- Three counts of arson;
- Two counts of attempted arson;
- One count of assault with a deadly weapon for threatening a resident with a knife; and
- One count of making a criminal threat with a deadly or dangerous weapon.
In addition to today's court victory, BMFEA has investigated and prosecuted several other notable elder abuse cases in the past year. Late last year in Sacramento, Maria Elna Flora pleaded guilty to 12 counts of grand theft and burglary for stealing $435,100 from retirees to fund a daily gambling habit.
In September 2009, Brown filed charges against Pamela Ott, a Kern Valley Hospital administrator, for allowing staff to forcibly administer psychotropic medications to patients to sedate them for the staff's convenience. The case is pending in Kern County Superior Court.