Woman Pleads Innocent to Stealing Soldier Son’s Insurance Money

May 22, 2006

An Indiana woman who was accused of stealing more than $250,000 in insurance money set aside for the 6-year-old daughter of a soldier killed in Iraq pleaded innocent to charges.

Janie Lee Espinoza, a 56-year-old pastor and mother of the soldier, entered her plea Friday in Porter County Superior Court. Her jury trial on eight counts of felony theft was scheduled to begin Aug. 28.

Prosecutors allege that a month after her son Spc. Roy Buckley died in Iraq in 2003, Espinoza became the guardian of $250,000 from his life insurance policy. The money was to go to Buckley’s then-6-year-old daughter when she turned 18, authorities said.

But Espinoza spent all the money, plus $406 in interest, on cars, jewelry, a time share property in Florida, church pews and a baby grand piano, police said.

Espinoza’s attorney, Garry Weiss, of Merrillville, said the case belonged in civil court, not criminal court. His client was grieving and didn’t realize the money was not hers to spend, he has said.

The Associated Press left a phone message seeking comment from Espinoza on Saturday at a number listed for the Church of Jesus Christ.

Buckley died in Iraq in “non-hostile” vehicle accident in Baghdad on April 22, 2003.

Espinoza, of Portage, is a pastor at the Church of Jesus Christ in New Chicago.

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