11007355897?profile=RESIZE_710xDavid Del Rio was handcuffed and remanded into custody after pleading guilty to 36 felony counts and getting a 15-year sentence.
Photos by Jim Rassol/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack

Maureen Forte can find comfort in knowing that the man accused of bilking her aunt and uncle out of $3 million is finally behind bars, but she is hoping that the case that lingered for more than four years will serve as a cautionary tale for other vulnerable seniors.
Early last month, 39-year-old David Del Rio pleaded guilty to 36 felony counts in connection with the theft of millions of dollars from widow Elizabeth “Betty” Cabral and her late husband, William.
As part of the plea agreement, Del Rio was sentenced to 15 years in state prison, followed by 15 years of probation. He also agreed to turn over to the Cabrals’ estate two properties he owned fully or in part at Lehigh Acres in Lee County.
“Our family has some relief because he’s going to jail,” Forte, the Cabrals’ niece, said after speaking to Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Gillen during the March 2 hearing. “But it’s never going to be enough because nothing is going to undo what’s been done.”

 

11007356680?profile=RESIZE_710xMaureen Forte, niece of Betty Cabral, said ‘our family has some relief’ with the sentencing of Del Rio. ‘But it’s never going to be enough.’ The Cabral homicide case dating to 2018 remains unsolved.

In addition to accepting the prison sentence and agreeing to the property transfer, Del Rio agreed that he understands a homicide investigation into the death of Betty Cabral remains open and that he receives no “promises of leniency, nor immunities” as a result of the plea.
Cabral was found in her Highland Beach apartment with her throat cut almost five years ago. There have been no arrests made in that case. Her husband died about a year earlier.
Prosecutors said the investigation into Cabral’s death is continuing.
“You understand that this deal, as sweet as it is, has nothing to do with the homicide involving Elizabeth Cabral?” the judge asked Del Rio.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop more than 35 felony charges and to give the Cabrals’ former financial adviser credit for 116 days of time he served in the Palm Beach County Jail. He was under house arrest following his release from jail on bond.
Under terms of the deal, Del Rio pleaded guilty to several counts each of exploiting an elderly person, money laundering, organized scheme to defraud, fraudulent use of personal identification information and grand theft from a person 65 or older.
Defense attorney Michael Salnick said that had Del Rio gone to trial — which had been scheduled for early this month — and been convicted of the 36 counts, the lowest possible sentence he could have received under state sentencing guidelines would have been 71 years.
Like Forte and even Del Rio, Salnick expressed relief that the case, which lingered during the pandemic years, has come to a conclusion.
“I am happy that we were able to resolve this case for Mr. Del Rio,” he said.
In brief comments to the court, Del Rio appeared remorseful, saying he unfortunately couldn’t take back his actions. He apologized, expressing gratitude to the judge for accepting the deal.
“I feel it’s time to move on,” he said.
In addition to Forte, another of Betty Cabral’s relatives, niece Teresa Regan, told how she kept asking her aunt to come back to live in her home state of Massachusetts but that she always wanted to stay in Florida.
Regan said that the last time she spoke to her aunt, Cabral told her that she wanted to come back home but that Del Rio told her she couldn’t afford to go.
“I hate him for that,” Regan said. “That just goes to show what kind of person he is.”
Forte, during comments in court, told the judge a little about her aunt and uncle and how they enjoyed living in Florida, where they made friends.
“I just wanted to give the judge an idea of who they were,” she said after the hearing. “They were a lovely couple. This was their dream and then they came upon this opportunistic vulture who ingratiated himself to them and took advantage of them.”
Forte said she appreciated the efforts of Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts and sheriff’s office detectives, and was grateful to have a chance to let the judge know that allegations from Del Rio that she and her relatives didn’t care about her aunt were untrue.
“I wanted the judge to know how reprehensible the false story he was telling was,” she said.

Need for caution
Forte, who flew down from Massachusetts for the hearing, said she hopes this case will alert other seniors to the need to be cautious while entrusting others with money.
To help older Floridians avoid becoming victims of financial fraud, the state Department of Elder Affairs created a tip sheet that includes a warning for seniors not to sign anything they don’t understand.
Other tips include:
• Check your bank statements regularly for unauthorized withdrawals.
• Don’t sign blank checks allowing others to fill in the amounts.
• Request assistance from your bank, which may be able to help you control access to your account.

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