Paul Donisthorpe sentenced to 12 years for trust fund theft

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A prominent Albuquerque executive is going to prison for stealing millions of dollars from the bank accounts of some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable people with special needs. 

Paul Donisthorpe, 63, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison Friday and ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution. 

Donisthorpe pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud and money laundering charges in November 2017, admitting that he used his role as the head of the non-profit trust fund “Desert State Life Management,” to steal at least $6.8 million from medically and mentally vulnerable clients. 

The state began investigating Donisthorpe in early 2017.

At least 77 victims had money taken from their trust accounts. In all cases, the money was set aside to be used by clients to pay for future medical and living expenses. In some cases, the money was meant to take care of victims for the rest of their lives. 

“At least there’s some closure here for these guys,” said Donna Burk, the daughter of one of the victims who had money invested with Desert State Life Management. 

In 2017, Burk was made aware by state financial investigators that her mother’s trust fund had zeroed-out. Around $32,000 was taken from Burk’s mother’s account, money that was supposed to pay for her mother’s medical bills and housing costs. 

“I feel we got what we were praying for,” said Burk of Donisthorpe’s sentence Friday. 

“Actually, it would have been great if it was more, but that’s what the maximum is and we got it, and we got him to go today, and we’re thankful for that,” said Burk. 

KRQE News 13 caught up with Donisthorpe as he entered the federal courthouse Friday, but he declined to offer any kind of statement. 

In court, Donisthorpe expressed regret for what he had done, but had no explanation as to why he stole from his client’s accounts. 

“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to the why, but I think he deeply is remorseful, regretful and understands that his actions caused people to be hurt in ways that are probably permanent,” said Ahmad Assed, an attorney representing Paul Donisthorpe. 

For victim Omar Ramirez, the damage is permanent. Ramirez is missing more than $1 million in trust funds, money that had been awarded to him through a court judgment after he was seriously injured in a car crash in the mid-2000s. 

“It’s just devastating for them, for us, for my family,” said Ivan Ramirez, Omar’s brother.  

Ivan detailed in Friday’s sentencing hearing how the family has struggled to pay for Omar’s expenses without his trust fund. 

“There’s no heart for him, how can he do this to people that can’t defend themselves? Who can’t speak for themselves?” said Ramirez. 

Prosecutors say Donisthorpe spent the money on himself and a “luxurious lifestyle,” purchasing luxury homes, even a large stake in a Texas cattle business. 

“Today was a very hard day for me,” said Joseph Perez, a man in his 30s who lives with cerebral palsy. 

Perez’s trust fund from a medically related court settlement was also zeroed-out by Donisthorpe. 

“I will live with this damage for the rest of my life,” said Perez. 

Donisthorpe will be 75 years old when he’s released from prison. He has been ordered to pay the victims more than $11 million, however, it’s unclear if he’ll ever be able to pay that back. 

Federal authorities have seized Donisthorpe’s assets, including a downtown Albuquerque office building, an Angel Fire vacation home and his stake in the Texas-based cattle business. Through the sale of those assets, federal authorities are expected to recover some funds for DSLM victims, however, it’s unclear how much.

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