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Victim in guardianship theft struggles to rebound

When Kristina Berger’s mom died of leukemia in the fall of 2008, her already fragile world crumbled.

But the nightmare had only begun for Berger, one of four people who police say were victimized by Patience Bristol, a court-appointed, private guardian accused of stealing nearly $200,000 worth of money and jewelry from her wards.

Las Vegas police arrested Bristol, 38, on Oct. 7. She faces 15 charges in the case, according to police reports.

Berger, 50, suffers from bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, a brain disorder that causes severe shifts in mood. From 2001 until fall 2008, she was under the guardianship of her mother, Margaret Maul.

“I was just in total grief and meltdown,” Berger said of her state following her mother’s death.

She lost control of her life. She struggled with diabetes after her weight shot up to nearly 300 pounds.

After her mother died, Family Court appointed a private guardian for Berger to oversee her financial and personal affairs. The court appointed Bristol, who at the time was employed by Professional Fiduciary Services of Nevada.

“After a year in their care, I was absolutely petrified,” Berger said Thursday.

Bristol tried to convince her that her father, who lives in Seattle, didn’t care about her, and that her sister was trying to steal from her, Berger said.

According to police, Bristol stole at least $47,000 worth of jewelry from Berger’s estate and sold much of it at pawn shops.

Bristol faces three counts of obtaining money under false pretenses and four counts of exploitation of a vulnerable person. She also was charged with eight counts of burglary in connection to the selling of stolen goods, according to police reports.

While police recovered a portion of what was stolen from the victims at local pawn shops, Berger said about 20 pieces of her collection still are missing.

“I just wish I could have done something to protect it,” said Berger, convinced she will never recover what’s lost.

Under Bristol’s guardianship, Berger claims she had no control. Bristol, as her guardian, had legal control over her person as well as the estate left to her by her mother, she said.

Berger knew she had to get some control back in her life, and getting physically healthier was her first step.

“I thought, ‘If I’m not strong, I’m going to die,’ ” Berger said. “I told myself that I’ve got to get myself together, no matter what.”

Berger changed her lifestyle. She lost 160 pounds through exercise and a healthier diet and got her diabetes under control. And things finally began to change.

For the first time in years, Berger visited her family in California for Christmas.

“We’re really tight again,” Berger said.

In March, Berger’s father, Raymond, deposited more than $5,000 into her account.

According to police, all but $20 in bank fees was withdrawn by Bristol in 16 cash withdrawals over a two-month period. Berger told police that Bristol gave her three checks totaling $300. The last one, a $150 check, bounced.

Bristol was removed as Berger’s guardian on April 30, and supervision of her finances was transferred to the Clark County public guardian’s office.

Las Vegas police launched an investigation into Bristol in May after receiving a report about concerns that also went to the public guardian’s office.

Though she is currently overseen by the Clark County public guardian’s office, Berger said the bills for their services have soared, estimating that they may reach $100,000.

And with virtually nothing left of the estate her mother left her, she is unsure how she is going to pay any of it.

But Berger is still keeping a positive outlook on things.

“I’m reclaiming my life back. I’m not going to let this abuse I’ve suffered for five years affect me. I’m going to move on. I have my life. I’m lucky to be alive.”

Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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