Woman Left Dead Man's Body in Home While Crafting Elaborate $3.9M Scheme to Take Over Residence

The California woman was ordered to pay nearly $4 million in restitution after "fraudulently obtaining ownership of real estate and money via identity theft."

<p>US Attorney LA</p>

US Attorney LA

A California woman has been sentenced to 20 years in prison after executing a nearly $3.9 million scheme to take over an elderly man's home.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California announced via a press release on Monday that Caroline Joanne Herrling, also known as “Carrie Phenix,” was also ordered to pay $3,887,051 in restitution after "fraudulently obtaining ownership of real estate and money via identity theft and forged power-of-attorney forms.”

According to the release, Herrling, 44, and her co-conspirators began their scheme by looking for individuals who lived in affluent neighborhoods and had unkempt properties with "algae-filled swimming pools or overgrown shrubs."

In 2020, the ploy led them to the Sherman Oaks, California, home of an "elderly man,” who mysteriously died in 2020, the release states. He was later identified as Charles Wilding in a criminal complaint filed against Herrling and reviewed by PEOPLE.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said in its release that although they are uncertain how Wilding died, it is believed that "Herrling and others took over the property while his body decomposed in his home."

<p>LAPD</p> Charles Wilding


Charles Wilding

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"Rather than reporting his death, Herrling and others in the conspiracy left his body in his house while they looted his assets. Herrling used a forged power-of-attorney form so she could pretend to act on the victim’s behalf while stealing his real estate and financial accounts," the release continues.

The complaint notes that the Los Angeles Police Department began investigating Wilding’s death in 2021 after he was reported missing, and discovered Herrling’s scam. She had identified herself as his "close friend,” listed herself as a trustee of his family trust, and told police that he had moved.

"She stated that Wilding was not home and was staying with friends in the City of Carpinteria, while she was working to get the house back in order, as it was in disarray and contained black mold," the complaint reads.

According to the press release, Herling and her co-conspirators moved the victim’s dead body to her apartment and attempted to dissolve it "in a concoction of chemicals."

When that did not work, the body was dismembered, placed in "vacuum-sealed bags" and disposed of in San Francisco Bay. The remains have never been found.

Authorities state in the release that the victim was named as the executor and beneficiary of another victim’s will which Herrling forged and “claimed to have ‘discovered’ in a safe deposit box rented by the deceased victim’s mother."

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"Based on this forged will, the missing victim was to inherit an estate worth more than $1.7 million — assets that ultimately fell under Herrling’s control as the trustee for his estate," the release states.

Herling also used forged documents to sell a home belonging to Robert Tascon for nearly $1.5 million, per the complaint.

"The buyer of Tascon’s property is currently in a civil dispute with Tascon’s estate. Tascon died of a gunshot wound to the head on September 11, 2022, which the police determined to be a suicide," the complaint adds.

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One of Herling's accomplices, Matthew Jason Kroth, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, in October 2023.

According to the release, Kroth faces up to 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud, and up to 40 years for methamphetamine trafficking. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7.

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