Owner, ex-administrator of Manse on Marsh charged with involuntary manslaughter, elder abuse

The Manse on Marsh at 475 Marsh St. in San Luis Obispo, where Christopher Skiff and Gary Potts accepted a dementia patient as a resident, despite not possessing a license to care for dementia patients.
The Manse on Marsh at 475 Marsh St. in San Luis Obispo, where Christopher Skiff and Gary Potts accepted a dementia patient as a resident, despite not possessing a license to care for dementia patients. mvaughan@thetribunenews.com

The owner and former administrator of Manse on Marsh Assisted Living Facility in San Luis Obispo have been charged with felony elder abuse and involuntary manslaughter in relation to a resident with dementia who was struck by a car and killed in 2014.

The state Attorney General’s Office filed charges against Christopher Edward Skiff, 54, and Gary Lee Potts, 63, in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on July 19, following a criminal investigation launched in 2015, court documents say.

The elder abuse charge carries a sentencing range of two to four years, but with felony enhancements it could increase up to 12 years. The involuntary manslaughter count has a sentencing range of two to four years.

Investigators allege in a criminal complaint that Skiff and Potts knowingly and willfully endangered Mauricio Edgar Cardenas, 65, and ultimately caused his death.

Christopher Edward Skiff Photo courtesy of San Luis Obispo County Jail

Gary Potts
Gary Lee Potts Photo courtesy of Smith County Jail (Tyler, Texas)

Cardenas died on Dec. 21, 2014, after he was struck by a car while walking in the dark on Los Osos Valley Road west of Palomino Drive about 10 miles from the facility in San Luis Obispo.

Investigators began looking into possible neglect by staff at the assisted living facility when the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse received a complaint regarding Cardenas’ death, according to court documents. Court documents, including a summary of the investigation and the original complaint to the bureau, do not identify the person who filed the complaint.

“The complainant alleged that Cardenas was not a suitable resident for MMALF and that the Executive Director knowingly admitted Cardenas to the facility with a dementia diagnosis and the facility lacks a dementia waiver to house such residents,” an investigation report says.

The original letter to the bureau says that the executive director persuaded the physician to alter his diagnosis so that the resident could be admitted to an unlocked assisted living community.

It says Cardenas allegedly had a history of leaving the building unannounced without alerting staff, refusing his dementia medications, and that he “got lost in the community on more than one occasion.”

“There is a solid consensus that if Mr. Cardenas had been appropriately placed in a more secure environment where his unique safety needs could have been monitored — he would still be alive today,” the letter ends.

On Monday night, Farron Bernhardt, CEO of Manse on Marsh, issued a statement that said Cardenas was “a jogger who was cleared by his physician to leave the property unassisted, and he did so frequently without prior incident. The California State Department of Social Services’ review of what happened and all the relevant paperwork exonerated us of any wrongdoing.”

The statement added that a few months after Cardenas’ death, the California Department of Justice obtained records from Manse on Marsh and that the facility “heard nothing more from the state” until charges were filed July 19.

Skiff was booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail on July 21 and then released on his own recognizance. Potts was arrested on a $250,000 warrant for involuntary manslaughter on July 21 and is in custody at Smith County Jail, in Tyler, Texas.

In a California Department of Justice filing requesting an increase in bail, Special Agent Sherry Zamanigan wrote that Potts lived in South Carolina but also had a residence in Tennessee. Zamanigan wrote that she was concerned that Potts might “flee to another state or even flee the United States prior to extradition” after he relocated to Texas without notifying investigators. Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy denied the request to increase bail.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

Andrew Sheeler contributed to this story.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect former title for Gary L. Potts.