A Long Beach woman who unwittingly signed over her house of 48 years to a real estate investor while confined to a nursing home has been awarded nearly $4 million in an elder abuse and fraud case.
Jurors awarded 80-year-old Suzanne Yorgason $939,669 in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages after finding Ken Allen Lamphear committed elder abuse, fraud and fraud in the inducement. Additionally, the jury found that Lamphear acted with malice, oppression or fraud at the conclusion of the 10-day trial at the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach.
“We are extremely gratified by the jury’s verdict and punitive award,” Yorgason’s Aliso Viejo attorney, William D. Chapman, said in a statement. “A sophisticated real estate investor, Ken Lamphear, knew exactly what he was doing when he persuaded Ms. Yorgason to transfer her home to him without any documentation — no promissory note, no deed, no escrow and no payment of any kind.”
Yorgason lived at her home in the Alamitos Beach neighborhood of Long Beach for 48 years before her health started deteriorating in the last two years. Chapman said she suffered a stroke and was hospitalized for a time before winding up in the nursing home.
Owing only $43,000 on a home valued at $800,000, Yorgason fell behind on her mortgage due to her medical situation. She received a notice of default from her bank in January 2022 informing her if she didn’t bring her account current within a month it would begin the foreclosure process, Chapman said.
A handyman renting Yorgason’s garage put her in touch with Lamphear, who was his boss and who, according to Chapman, owned 31 residential income properties across Southern California and had a net worth of more than $33 million. Yorgason thought Lamphear might be able to help her and asked if he could loan her the money to cover her mortgage debt.
Lamphear, 70, of Long Beach, said he couldn’t loan her any money, but instead offered to buy her house. Yorgason agreed, but on one condition: that Lamphear would allow Yorgason’s developmentally disabled sister to continue living at the house for the remainder of her life. Lamphear, according to Chapman, agreed, but the deal was never put into writing.
Yorgason, while confined to the nursing home, was subsequently visited by a notary public on Lamphear’s behalf. Without her glasses and not really knowing what she was signing, Yorgason, believing Lamphear was acting in good faith, signed a grant deed to her property, essentially relinquishing her home to him, Chapman said.
Lamphear did not provide her any promissory note or trust deed to sign to be filed at the recorder’s office that would provide safeguards for Yorgason, Chapman said.
Then, Lamphear informed Yorgason’s sister he now owned the property and that he would be evicting her. She frantically tracked down a cousin in Huntington Beach who, after hearing the story, contacted Chapman, who took the case and filed the lawsuit.
The trial now enters the judgment phase. Chapman said he plans to file a motion Friday, Sept. 8, demanding that Lamphear pay Yorgason’s attorney’s fees and court costs, which he said amount to roughly $500,000. He also will request that Jorgason’s home be put back in her name.
Lamphear’s attorney, Devin Murtaugh, said in an email that while the jury’s findings must be respected, the decision profoundly misunderstands the facts and is a “tragedy for all involved.”
“After a series of post-trial procedural steps, there will likely be an appeal,” he said, adding that after judgment is entered, he will ask the court to either reduce the damages or hold a new trial before any appeal.
“It is, for better or worse, a long and complex process,” Murtaugh said.