Elder abuse tests one man’s mettle

Steve Steele of Hermiston alleges his former caretakers, Elizabeth and Pedro Avila, took advantage and bilked him of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and property. Steele is trying to recoup those losses in a lawsuit, and Elizabeth Avila now faces criminal charges of theft and mistreatment.

Steve Steele of Hermiston continues the legal fight to gain back the homes and tens of thousands of dollars he claims he lost to con artists Elizabeth and Pedro Avila.

Steele’s attorney, Brent Smith of La Grande, filed a motion July 1 in Umatilla County Circuit Court seeking an order to compel the Avilas to explain to a judge why they do not have to comply with court orders to turn over the property and money.

The Hermiston Herald left a message for Smith, who did not return a call before deadline, but according to the filing, the court in March 2018 ordered Elizabeth Avila to return two houses to Steele along with $90,000 and all the money she took from Steele’s account.

Elizabeth Avila asked for a hearing, which resulted in a June 2018 court order for her to immediately return the homes and more than $127,000 to Steele along with other remedies.

She then filed a motion with the Oregon Court of Appeals to stay the order. The appellate court in June upheld the lower court’s order and the original restraining order to protect Steele from Elizabeth Avila.

Court records show the Avilas have not complied with the orders to return the homes and money to Steele. Circuit Judge Robert Collins takes up Smith’s request during a hearing Friday afternoon in Pendleton.

The Avilas began caring for Steele in September 2016 when he was 72 and grieving over the loss of his long-term partner and suffering from diabetes and other conditions. Within weeks, they moved in with Steele at his home at 840 N. Sloan St., Stanfield. Elizabeth Avila soon gained access to Steele’s bank accounts and drained them. Steele also gave the Avilas everything he owned, including the Stanfield property and his other home at 32602 Baxter Road, Hermiston.

The East Oregonian featured Steele and his story in 2018. He described how the the Avilas mistreated him to the point he attempted suicide in 2017, and that December he landed in jail after the couple claimed he attacked them and battered Elizabeth Avila.

Steele, who cannot walk without help and has limited mobility of his right arm, faced felonies for assault and related charges until the Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case in April 2018 in light of evidence the Avilas were bilking Steele for everything he was worth.

The Avilas have claimed Steele gave them the homes and money in exchange for their care, and the court has been wrong to not see him as the con artist. They also turned again to Facebook to drum up sympathy for their side.

Elizabeth Avila on her Facebook page on Aug. 21 stated she and Pedro started a hunger strike due to the injustice they face. Pedro Avila posted something similar in May 2018 on Facebook, asserting he would continue that strike “until there is justice done.”

And Elizabeth Avila, who also goes by Elizabeth Avila Ramirez and other versions of her name, now faces criminal charges.

The district attorney’s office in early July charged her with two counts of first-degree aggravated theft and three of first-degree criminal mistreatment. The prosecutors in court filings accused her of stealing Steele’s property and ripping him off while caring for him.

She pleaded not guilty during an arraignment on Aug. 2 and signed a conditional release agreement to stay out of jail. She also signed an extradition waiver. Court records show she lives in Kennewick.

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