Bolinas woman arrested

05/14/2015

Sixty-five-year-old Bolinas resident Martha Wax was arrested at her home last Thursday for allegedly embezzling over $200,000 from her mother, Charlotte Speight, between 2009 and 2014. The arrest came just three weeks after Ms. Speight’s death on April 15, her 96th birthday.

A handwritten note from Ms. Wax, published in the Bolinas Hearsay News, briefly recounted the span of her mother’s life and accomplishments. A talented artist and editor, Ms. Speight grew up in Europe and New England; she received a master’s degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, and taught art at Dominican College.

Toward the end of her life, she suffered from a host of ailments—dementia, skin cancer, limited mobility, limited hearing and near-blindness. She lived with her daughter for an unspecified time on Dogwood Road, until 2013. She died in a convalescent hospital in San Rafael while spending her birthday with her daughter and loved ones, Ms. Wax’s note read.

Bay Area-based sculptor and friend John Toki recalled Ms. Speight as an author and painter who delved into several media. She and Mr. Toki met 25 years ago at a studio in Albany, Calif., and over the years co-authored many books on ceramics. Ms. Speight’s paintings were “dreamlike, with swan images,” Mr. Toki said. 

“She didn’t show her work too much,” he said. “It was more for personal growth and development.”

In 2013, Marin County Health and Human Services removed Ms. Speight from her home and transferred her to Stockstill House, the assisted-living facility in Point Reyes Station, where she stayed for about a year. She spent another year at Long Life Living in San Rafael before she was admitted to the convalescent home. Ms. Wax was her mother’s caretaker, and said she had access to her personal bank accounts in order to manage her assets, an affidavit of warrant issued by the county District Attorney states. According to the document, Ms. Wax told Deputy Josie Sanguinetti of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office that she did not have a source of income aside from government assistance, instead relying on her mother’s assets for support.

A bank statement handed over to a county social worker, Mandi Smith, showed that over $21,000 had been withdrawn from Ms. Speight’s account in April 2013. Deputy Sanguinetti concluded that none of this amount was used to pay for Ms. Speight’s $54 in medication costs, a task Ms. Wax was charged to complete as a caretaker.

After a visit to the residence, Deputy Sanguinetti concluded that no reasonable household expenses had been made that month, despite large sums of money spent. Other sums included over $33,000 in ATM cash withdrawals during a five-month period in 2013.

The affidavit also details disquieting conditions under which Ms. Speight was kept while in Ms. Wax’s care.

“When [Deputy Sanguinetti] conducted her investigation, she found those alleged allegations to be true in interviews with Martha Wax and with others,” said Marin County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Doug Pittman, who has been in contact with Deputy Sanguinetti about the matter. “In her perspective, it appeared a clear-cut case of abuse of a family member who was unable to take care of herself.”

Ms. Wax is the daughter of Ms. Speight and the late Mel Wax, a former chief press aid for Mayor George Moscone and the principal anchor of KQED’s “Newsroom” from 1968 to 1977. As of Wednesday, she has been held in Marin County Jail on $100,000 bail.