San Fernando Valley Woman Who Disposed of One Victim’s Body Sentenced to 20 Years for Fake Wills Scam

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West Hills Woman Who Disposed of One Victim’s Body Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Stealing Identities, Homes and Assets

A San Fernando Valley woman has been sentenced to 240 months in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining ownership of real estate and money via identity theft and forged power-of-attorney forms in a near-$3.9 million scheme that included dismembering and disposing of a dead body to prevent the discovery of this victim’s death, the Justice Department announced today.

            Caroline Joanne Herrling, 44, a.k.a. “Carrie Phenix,” of West Hills, was sentenced late Friday by United States District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong. Judge Frimpong also ordered Herrling to pay $3,887,051 in restitution.

            “This defendant’s misconduct was both greedy and grotesque, causing profound pain to the victims and their loved ones,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “There must be serious consequences for those who prey on vulnerable communities, such as older adults, and my office will remain steadfast in bringing these offenders to justice.”

 “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to work diligently with our local law enforcement partners to protect our communities from criminals who target our most vulnerable population,” said Inspector in Charge Carroll Harris of the Los Angeles Division. “Today’s sentencing shows that justice will be served to those who commit such criminal acts.”

            “The LAPD would like to thank our federal partners at the US Postal Inspection Service and the United States Attorney’s Office, without whom a resolution in this case would not have been possible,” said Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton.

According to court documents, Herrling and her co-conspirators preyed on vulnerable victims by searching for properties in affluent neighborhoods that appeared unkempt. For example, Herrling used online mapping programs and visited nicer neighborhoods to search for algae-filled swimming pools or overgrown shrubs to identify houses with vulnerable victims who were unable to care for their properties.

After finding such a home in Sherman Oaks in 2020, Herrling and her co-conspirators broke into the residence, where an elderly victim resided. At some point in September 2020, the victim died – investigators are uncertain how – and they believe that Herrling and others took over the property while his body decomposed in his home. Rather than reporting his death, Herrling and others in the conspiracy left his body in his house while they looted his assets. Herrling used a forged power-of-attorney form so she could pretend to act on the victim’s behalf while stealing his real estate and financial accounts.

            In October 2021, law enforcement began investigating the case when neighbors reported the victim missing. According to court documents, Herrling identified herself to police as a close friend of the victim and his family. She also was listed as the trustee of the victim’s family trust – which purportedly had been created by the victim’s mother, who died in June 2017 – but in fact was a forgery. She told police that the victim had moved from Sherman Oaks to Carpinteria, which was not true because the victim was already dead.

After Herrling learned of the police investigation into the missing victim, her co-conspirators and she executed an elaborate scheme to ensure his body was never found and his death remain unreported, this to support the idea that the victim agreed to distribute his assets to Herrling and her co-conspirators.

Herrling and her co-conspirators moved the victim’s body to her apartment in West Los Angeles, where they attempted to dissolve his body in a concoction of chemicals, investigators found. When that did not work, Herrling and her co-conspirators dismembered the body, placed the pieces in vacuum-sealed bags and moved the victim’s body to the Bay Area. Another member of the conspiracy who owned a sailboat assisted in disposing of the mutilated remains of the deceased victim into San Francisco Bay, the investigation revealed. The victim’s remains have never been found.

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Frimpong said this victim was “a man and a human being,” but Herrling “did not see that” and instead treated him “like a cash register.”

The deceased victim was the listed executor and beneficiary to the will of another victim, but this document was another forgery that Herrling claimed to have “discovered” in a safe deposit box rented by the deceased victim’s mother, court papers state. Based on this forged will, the missing victim was to inherit an estate worth more than $1.7 million – assets that ultimately fell under Herrling’s control as the trustee for his estate.

            Herrling and her co-conspirators also defrauded a third victim and sold his home without his consent by using a conspirator with fake identity documents to pose as the victim. Herrling set up accounts to receive the proceeds of the sale of this victim’s real estate, a transaction that generated approximately $1.5 million. According to court documents, this victim, who was already suffering from mental health issues, took his own life after losing his home. Herrling later used her ill-gotten gains to purchase a residence in West Hills.

            The total loss in this case was $3,887,051.

            Herrling pleaded guilty in March 2023 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She has been in federal custody since January 2023.

            One of Herrling’s accomplices – Matthew Jason Kroth, 50, of Tarzana – pleaded guilty in October 2023 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud, and up to 40 years for methamphetamine trafficking when he is sentenced on June 7.

The United States Postal Inspection Service and the Los Angeles Police Department, Valley Bureau Homicide are investigating this matter. Significant assistance was provided by the Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center.

            Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Brown of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.


Written by DOJ

Press releases written by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ)

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