I’ve been putting off writing this, in part because so many of the things that transpired are incredibly upsetting and in part because no justification can excuse what Sam and Christina Hornedo did to Irma. I know we can only change what happens in the future, but I can’t help but wish things had happened differently, that we’d moved Irma out-of-state to our home, that we’d been able to improve her care, that we could have prevented the emotional and financial abuse. But here we are now, missing Irma terribly, and left with answers that are painful and excuses that leave you speechless. Rather than taking any adult responsibility for their lives, Sam & Christina instead opted to fleece a woman in her 80’s, living on a fixed income, of all her life savings AND monthly income, so that they could live a lifestyle beyond their means. I know writing is cathartic but more importantly it is my deepest hope that any of the things we share with you might help you to catch the signs as early as possible if someone you care about is being taken advantage of or suffering financial abuse.
Facts and Premonitions
I utterly adored Irma and have always said I was so lucky to get a second mother who was such a kind and lovely person. I have many wonderful memories of times we shared together, with other family, hers and mine, but especially treasure the talks we shared just between the two of us. But I get ahead of myself…first, I have to jump back to November 2015 when she came out for Thanksgiving, before we had any inkling of the abuse that was going on. What I write here is not to gossip but to lay the groundwork for understanding everything that took place with regard to Irma, her money, and the continued threat to her emotional and physical well-being leading up to her death.
At the time, I’d had a long conversation with Christina when I’d called to invite them to join us for Thanksgiving at our house, where they could Join Irma and bring the kids, have most of the cousins together and to stay with us for some family fun and bonding. What she’d told me on the phone was saddening but not surprising, given Sam’s track record of past behavior. Apparently, Sam had already moved out and they were separated as result of his constant lying, lack of financial restraint with their income, and his bastardizing the Church doctrine as an excuse to tamp down Christina’s strong and outspoken nature. Christina detailed Sam’s history of lying, of blowing through their finances on his electronics, Star Wars stuff, sixteen electric guitars, motorcycles, etc., his failing to tell her when their house was being foreclosed in 2010, until days before the bank was to take it. Since then, as a result of losing their home, she had to get much more involved in managing the finances to make sure their essential expenses got paid before the rest of the money was spent on lifestyle stuff. Sams bad behavior apparently continued. More recently he had come home and said, “hey we’re gonna go pick up a car,” that he’d bought from someone at his church I believe, but hadn’t discussed it with her prior (because he was the head of the household so why would he?). So Christina had to get even more involved in the finances and ultimately taking them over. Despite attempts at counseling with a pastor over these issues, Sam refused to change his ways. Irma always told me that Sam and Christina argued intensely, and that Christina was strong-willed and hotheaded. So, it was no surprise that she refused to accept his attempt at lording over her. Some years before they had drifted away from a church they went to as a family. The arguing continued, and by the time she and I had this conversation in 2015, she didn’t even know where Sam was staying, but said that Julia (their daughter) was so furious with Sam because of all the crap he pulled and that she wanted nothing to do with her father.
“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went” – Dave Ramsey
People ask me how we didn’t catch the financial abuse of Irma sooner given these things we knew about Sam? Here’s the truth about that…I don’t judge others for making financial mistakes…in the past, we’d made a lot of financial mistakes ourselves. In my early twenties, as a result of not managing our money properly, or living beneath our means, we screwed up big time and our home was foreclosed on. The situation was more complicated than the typical story (the bank made a change on the loan via a loophole), but that doesn’t change the fact that we needed to grow up and not spend every penny we made). Simple math, we didn’t have the money to resolve it so we lost our home, which really sucked, but it was a big lesson in life about needing to live beneath our means and not be caught unaware in the future. Unfortunately, even after beginning to straighten up our financial lives, the consequences of our lack of budgeting were still coming to fruition. One night at 4 a.m. the repo man came for my car. I called my dad crying as this was happening and he yelled over the phone “God damn it, Andrea, you can’t have things you don’t pay for!” and then hung up on me. He was right, and although I didn’t like it, it was one of the best life lessons I have ever had.
That humiliating experience really made me determined to improve our money skills and make sure we had enough money put aside to cover our bills. Since those days, I’ve become a huge fan of natural consequences in life… for ourselves, in raising children, etc. We had to pay dearly for another fifteen years to clean up the mess we made, and in some ways, we’re still paying for those mistakes today because we could be so much more financially stable than we are now and in the future, but, well…natural consequences of our actions.
Anyhow, I have a dear friend that had around $70k in law school debt and she had utilized Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (TMM) and really sacrificed to become completely debt-free in just 2-3 short years. Not long after, her mom became terminally ill and because she had no debt, she was able to move to another state and care for her mom until she passed away. The time she was able to spend with her mom without the stress of needing to spend half her days at a job to pay bills… well, you can never get back! That had a massive impact on me; there is no number of things, owning toys, that could match the value of being able to spend that time with someone you love, time that could never be recuperated. So around ten years after losing our home, we too turned to the Dave Ramsey TMM to clean up our budgeting even more, in hopes we would be able to save for the future, and really get right with money all around.
Newsflash! Emergencies in life will always happen, count on it!
It took a long time for me to figure out that it is less stressful to be prepared for the inevitable emergencies that life will throw your way. By putting a little bit aside at a time (and sometimes, it was less than $10) and having some or all of the money when those emergencies arose, reduces a lot of stress. Not long after we’d gotten ourselves on the TMM program, due to needing mold-remediation in our home plus catastrophic illness in the family, we were on payment plans with almost every hospital in the city as well as with many specialists for at least another seven plus years. Still, we had to take care of our bills because no one was going to do it for us. It’s called being accountable for one’s actions and not being the victim to life’s circumstances. This didn’t make us experts at budgeting or financially stable overnight. We’ve lived month-to-month for almost all our adult lives, while rectifying our past mistakes, on top of handling many bumps in our road in life. But the point is, we’ve handled our own bumps.
The difference between Sam & Christina and us, is that we sacrificed ourselves, while they sacrificed Irma!
The biggest sacrifice we made to take financial responsibility for ourselves was moving away from our families and going where work was. It is the single deepest regret that I have today (and I have a lot to choose from!). But we simply could not continue living near our loved ones and all of our friends in beautiful San Diego and be able to support ourselves, without asking for help from others. Everything I’d ever known was in California, but we didn’t want to ask our families for money when we needed to learn to take care of things ourselves and how to live beneath our means no matter how small or erratic those means were. And guess what!?! It is really empowering when you take ownership of your finances and responsibilities! For one, when you earn your own money and pay your bills, there are no strings attached to how you spend it or don’t spend it.
My final point on that is, we constantly made an effort to get better at budgeting and saving a little bit so that life emergencies wouldn’t result in our having to ask someone else for help or rely on credit to carry us through. Over the years, we continually worked at it, and we still do, making smaller mistakes as time goes on but still learning from every experience and mistake we make.
Putting Irma’s Wellbeing First
So back to Sam & Christina, where I first started above…with all this in mind we thought, “let’s give Christina the benefit of the doubt that maybe she didn’t know about all the money Sam was taking from Irma. So, let’s approach this as though Sam had likely not told her anything as he’d done so many times before. Perhaps he’d done it without Christina’s knowledge or consent.” Little did we know then. But we were very concerned first and foremost about Irma’s wellbeing. So, when Christina brought the kids over to Irma’s place to visit with their uncles, out of respect for all present, Elwin and Mickey (Miguel) didn’t want to sour the visit by bringing up the proof they’d found about Sam taking Irma’s money. Sam wasn’t there, as he refused to talk to or visit with his brothers, presumably because of his shame about what he’d been doing, but what we now know is his modus operandi.
In fact, Sam had actually been spinning lies to Irma about Elwin and Mickey, which was incredibly upsetting to her, causing her to be unable to eat little for days on end, getting horrible acid reflux, and causing her significant emotional upset. He’d put on the faux waterworks and whined to Irma “Elwin and Mickey don’t love me…. they’re excluding me and won’t talk to me, etc.” (What? Are we five?). These were blatant lies as we have the texts, emails and phone calls to prove it. In the long run, Sam created so much havoc and stress, causing Irma significant distress resulting in her having increased incidences of unresolved acid indigestion and driving her to tears. Knowing what we know now, I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t at least indirectly responsible for her needing a feeding tube to be put in because of the damage to her stomach caused by the long-term exposure to the additional acid. I realize that is speculation, and yes, maybe a bit inflammatory. I’m not saying he killed her outright, but it is my opinion Sam & Christina both, significantly contributed to creating emotional and physical distress for her over the years.
To put Irma’s care and feelings first, it was decided Christina would be brought in the loop via me, woman-to-woman, wife-to-wife after the guys returned home. Elwin and Mickey both listened in on and took notes during my call to Christina. I will say that one of us had a strong feeling that Christina was well aware of sucking Irma financially dry and sadly, how very right he turned out to be. You’ve obviously already figured out by now that Christina not only knew about the money taken from Irma but what came out of her mouth will leave your jaw on the ground. Next time: Initial conversations with Christina