An 80-year-old woman has regained ownership of her Long Beach home following a civil trial where jurors found a real estate investor was guilty of elder abuse and fraud.
“It’s a big relief,” said Suzanne Yorgason after learning the home was once again hers. “I bought it in 1979 and I lived there off and on with my family and it means a lot to me.”
In addition, a jury decided that real estate investor, 70-year-old Ken Lamphear, must pay $3 million in punitive damages to Yorgason in addition to $939,669 in economic damages. Statutory penalties and a separate court ruling could further boost that penalty to upwards of $4.7 million, according to attorneys on the case.
The decision Tuesday comes after more than a yearlong legal battle where Yorgason’s attorneys argued Lamphear not only took advantage of her while she was in a vulnerable state following a stroke but that Lamphear didn’t fulfill any of the promises he made, including paying Yorgason the agreed-upon $300,000.
“He stole that house from her,” Chapman. “He didn’t pay her a dime.”
Lamphear, meanwhile, argued the lawsuit against him was simply a money grab by Yorgason and her family, that Yorgason had agreed to a deferred payment while he worked out a loan on the property, and that he kept his promise of allowing her sister to live at the home rent-free, according to court records. He also argued in court records that Yorgason was “mentally sharp” and willingly signed the grant deed.
The transaction in question happened after Yorgason suffered a stroke in December 2021, causing her to be hospitalized and eventually sent to a rehabilitation center. In January 2022, while recovering from her stroke, she received a letter in the mail alerting her of a missed mortgage payment.
According to Yorgason’s attorney, the bank told her that she had until the next month to pay $1,900 or they may have to foreclose on her home.
With little income at her disposal, and the stroke leaving her with paralysis on the left side of her body, she decided selling the place she’d called home for the last 40 years was her best option.
“At least it’d be better to get something out of the house,” Yorgason recalls telling herself.
A tenant living in her garage soon introduced her to Lamphear, a retired aerospace engineer and a real estate investor, who offered to buy the home for $300,000, which, according to Yorgason’s attorneys, is less than half of the market value.
At the time, however, Yorgason, not knowing the true value of her home, and debilitated from her stroke, agreed, according to her attorneys—but only under the condition that Lamphear allow her sister to continue living there rent-free and grant her a lifetime residency, according to court records.
Lamphear agreed to those conditions and said he would send a lawyer with the proper paperwork for Yorgason to sign.
“I told him that he was an angel, and he told me that his parents taught him to help people when he could,” Yorgason said.
But the promised paperwork never arrived, Yorgason said. Instead, according to Yorgason, he visited her and duped her into signing a grant deed, transferring ownership of the home to him.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Yorgason said. “I didn’t have a phone so I couldn’t call anybody to ask what it was. I was trying to recuperate from my disease.”
Yorgason said she didn’t know what she had signed until her cousins visited her and told her it was the grant deed.
By then, Lamphear had begun making “shoddy repairs” at the home, according to Yorgason’s attorneys, and she had yet to see any money.
In July 2022, Yorgason’s family filed a lawsuit on her behalf against Lamphear, alleging elder abuse, along with other claims. In the lawsuit, the family sought for the grant deed to be revoked—giving back ownership of the home to Yorgason—in addition to monetary damages under the California Elder Abuse Statute and punitive damages.
During a civil trial last month, Long Beach Superior Court judge Mark C. Kim ruled that the signed grant deed transferring ownership to Lamphear was void and not enforceable, after finding that it did not contain all the terms of which the sale of the home was originally based on, court records show.
In addition, a jury found true allegations against Lamphear including elder financial abuse; acting either with malice, oppression, or fraud; and tricking Yorgason into an agreement during his efforts to buy the home from her, court records show.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Suzanne Yorgason’s name and to clarify how the damages were calculated.