Through her attorney, a veteran director of the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce is working to avoid a trial on six felony charges including elder abuse and theft.

Donna Maples Schantz, 60, was accused last October of allegedly stealing more than $66,000 from her former father-in-law, Antone Lema. He was 91 when he died June 3, 2001.

She pleaded not guilty to all the charges in November. She has no criminal record.

At what was to be Schantz's preliminary hearing yesterday, her lawyer and a prosecutor told Superior Court Judge Douglas Mewhinney that they are trying to resolve the matter with a plea bargain.

Another hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. May 20.

Neither Schantz nor prosecutor Steven Muni an Amador County deputy district attorney who handles cases for a two-county elder and dependent adult abuse unit would comment after the hearing.

Schantz completed her third four-year term as a chamber director in December. She is no longer on the board.

A graphic artist, Schantz owns a San Andreas advertising firm. She became Lema's caretaker soon after March 13, 2000, when he was in a serious car accident.

According to court documents, Schantz withdrew two checks totaling $65,513 from Lema's bank account the day after he died and deposited the checks into her own account four days later.

And, prosecutors allege, Schantz used Lema's credit card to pay for $1,242 in automotive repairs three days before he died. She then forged his signature on the transaction slip, according to court documents.

Investigative documents by the state Department of Health Services report Schantz failed to report $65,000 of Lema's assets when applying for Medi-Cal on Lema's behalf, resulting in an overpayment of about $12,000.

The Calaveras County District Attorney's Office learned about the checks and withdrawals when Robert Lema who is Schantz's ex-husband and Antone Lema's son called the office because he suspected fraudulent activity.

Court documents indicate Robert Lema found an application for his father's Medi-Cal filled out by Schantz. The form, dated Jan. 22, 2001, listed his father's assets at $1,500.

Robert also found his father's bank records from that month, showing assets of nearly $65,000.

Lema's son turned his search to the Internet and found Schantz had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Modesto on July 18, 2000. Copies of the bankruptcy papers in the court documents show Schantz owed $32,345 to eight creditors.

Schantz's bankruptcy was made final Oct. 31, 2000. She became a joint tenant on Lema's bank account three days later.

According to the court documents, investigators said that Schantz said she had Lema's permission to use his credit card for auto repairs. She also told investigators that a county employee filled out the Medi-Cal application, and that the employee told her the unreported $65,000 was exempt.

As for moving the $65,000 of Lema's money to her personal account after he died, Schantz said she assumed she was entitled to the money, investigators said.

Investigators said Schantz used some of the money to pay off her personal debts after Lema died. She allegedly told investigators that she accrued debt while caring for Lema because she couldn't work as much.

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