Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg announced today that Mark Miller, 28, of San Mateo pled guilty a felony violation of Penal Code section 368(d), Theft from an Elder, for a crime he committed in 2011. Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter, who handles all elder abuse cases for the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case for the People.
In February of 2011 Tuolumne County resident Lonnie Brakefield, who was 84, was selling a Pontiac Vibe and had the vehicle parked in the Safeway parking lot with a “for sale” sign that had his phone number. Miller contacted Mr. Brakefield who responded to the scene to negotiate the sale. Miller told Mr. Brakefield that he lived in Jamestown and offered a low down-payment and monthly payments and Mr. Brakefield agreed to let Miller drive a truck of Brakefield’s until Miller could pay for the Pontiac in full. Miller, who was accompanied by a female he identified as his sister, followed Mr. Brakefield to his home where he saw a 2005 Kia that Mr. Brakefield was also selling. Offering to purchase that car instead for over blue book, Miller and Mr. Brakefield drafted a contract that was written by the female. After providing a $400 down-payment Mr. Brakefield agreed to let Miller use the Kia while making payments. Mr. Brakefield said he entered into the deal and let Miller drive the car because “they seemed like such sweet people.” Because Miller did not have identification at the time, and Mr. Brakefield wanted to have a way to recover the vehicle if necessary, he arranged to follow Miller to his Jamestown residence so he would know where the Kia was. Miller took the keys and, before Mr. Brakefield could get his car ready, drove off. Mr. Brakefield called Sonora Police and Officer John Bowly arrived. Officer Bowly noted that the “agreement” was signed “Mork Mille” with no identifying information except a phone number. Officer Bowly called the number which came back to a business “M & M Auto Body” in the Bay Area. Contacting law enforcement in the Bay Area, Officer Bowly found out the address belonged to a palm reader with an empty apartment beneath. Later that day Miller called Officer Bowly back and denied telling Brakefield that he lived in Jamestown and said the female he was with was not his sister, but “like a sister.” In fact, the defendant said he was driving the car to San Mateo, where he lived, and that he was coming back the next day to notarize the agreement. The next day Miller was arrested when he met Brakefield in the former Blockbuster Video store parking lot.
In March of 2011 the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint against Miller for Theft From an Elder. A warrant was issued but Miller could not be found. In July of 2018 the defendant was convicted of Drunk Driving Causing Injury in San Diego County and sentenced to jail. He then requested that Tuolumne County bring him to trial in this matter within ninety days or dismiss the case. ADA Hovatter knew that Officer Bowly still worked for the Sonora Police Department but had no idea if Brakefield, who would now be 91, was alive or still in Tuolumne County. Using the phone number that was provided in 2011 the Tuolumne County Victim Witness Unit called the number and Mr. Brakefield answered the phone. Not only was he still alive, but he remembered the case! Miller was transported to Tuolumne County and just prior to his preliminary hearing, in which Brakefield was prepared to testify, he pled guilty. Because he was currently serving a prison sentence he will now serve an additional one year in prison and have the felony conviction added to his RAP sheet.
“We were very lucky that Mr. Brakefield was alive and well and willing to come in and testify despite such a long time passing. Seeing his face probably caused Miller to plead guilty” said Hovatter. He also said this case is a good example of being wary of doing business with strangers and making sure you have legitimate contracts, addresses and ample security to protect yourself from thieves like Miller.