Granddaughters testify that Uncasville retiree was bilked

Kristy Tardif liked to sit close to her grandmother during visits to her Uncasville home, because the grandmother, Jacqueline Becker, had trouble hearing.

That's how Tardif came to be sitting on the arm of Becker's easy chair one day in 2009 when Joanne Skok called Becker to ask for money to pay closing costs for a house supposedly owned by mobster John Gotti.

"I was shocked," Tardif said Thursday on the witness stand in New London Superior Court.

Tardif and two of Becker's other granddaughters, Ashley Meyer and Nicole Ostrowski, testified as prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla continued to present evidence in the larceny case of 62-year-old Joanne Skok of Ledyard. Skok and her husband, John Skok, 58, are accused of stealing about $40,000 from Becker, a 75-year-old retiree.

Testimony has revealed that Skok concocted an elaborate scheme involving a fictitious relative who was in the FBI, Gotti, and endless legal expenses, and that the couple hit up Becker time and time again for money.

The Skoks were arrested in 2011 and have pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny. They are being tried separately.

Tardif said that after the phone call, her grandmother admitted she had given money to Skok, whom Becker had befriended when they served together on a Montville Town Fair committee, so that Skok could help Becker straighten out a problem with another grandchild's car loan.

"She (Becker) didn't want to talk about it," Tardif testified.

But a few months later, Becker told her she had given even more money to Skok. Tardif said she insisted her grandmother call Skok and that she once again sat on the chair arm and listened to the conversation. This time, Skok was asking for money to a pay a courier who would be delivering a check to Becker "because the courier's daughter had gotten sick."

"She (Skok) was adamant that she needed the money in order for my grandmother to receive the money," Tardif testified.

The granddaughters, who helped Becker with household chores and visited regularly, got together and decided to go to police. Ashley Meyer called Joseph DePasquale, commander of detectives in Waterford, whom Meyer has known since she was young. DePasquale and an FBI agent interviewed Becker and installed a recording device on her phone.

DePasquale testified that he asked the FBI agent to check the agency's personnel records to see if there was an agent named Stewart Skok, the name that Skok had given Becker. Stewart Skok was supposed to be "quietly" helping resolve the problem with the car loan, according to Becker's testimony.

There was nobody in the FBI by that name, according to DePasquale.

State police took over the case, which is in their jurisdiction. Detective John Jette of the Eastern District Major Crime Squad testified that he interviewed Becker, retrieved the recording device and went to the Skoks' home to ask them about the case.

Joanne Skok did most of the talking, Jette testified. She told him she was "almost a middleman" for a person who was helping Becker. Skok said the man's name was Stewart Reynolds and that she had met him through a limo driver. Skok provided a phone number for Reynolds that Jette learned might have once belonged to Bank of America but was no longer active. Skok said she and her husband had taken about $20,000 from Becker and given it directly to Stewart Reynolds, Jette testified.

"I asked, 'Did he work for the FBI?'" Jette testified. "She said he worked for the government."

Becker said Joanne Skok had become her best friend and that they spoke daily by phone. She said she was "shocked" when her granddaughters brought police to her house, but that they finally convinced her that Skok "wasn't a friend."

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Theodore Koch, Becker said the Skoks started giving her money orders for small amounts of money, totaling about $300 or $400, after they found out police were investigating.

The grandchildren had testified that Becker, who worked as a paralegal for 26 years, always kept good records of her finances and paid her bills on time. Becker said Thursday that she has just a small amount of money to live on for the rest of her life and has to sell that house she and her late husband moved into in 1961. She said she moved out of the house three days ago.

k.florin@theday.com

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