Crime

Manse on Marsh owner guilty of manslaughter and elder abuse

Christopher Skiff, owner of The Manse on Marsh senior assisted living center in San Luis Obispo, testifies in his own defense Tuesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. Jurors found Skiff guilty of two charges of felony manslaughter and elder abuse for the 2014 death of resident Mauricio Cardenas.
Christopher Skiff, owner of The Manse on Marsh senior assisted living center in San Luis Obispo, testifies in his own defense Tuesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. Jurors found Skiff guilty of two charges of felony manslaughter and elder abuse for the 2014 death of resident Mauricio Cardenas. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A jury on Tuesday found the owner of The Manse on Marsh senior assisted living facility in San Luis Obispo guilty of manslaughter and elder abuse following more than two full days of deliberations.

Following the reading of the verdict, Manse on Marsh owner Christopher Skiff prayed and cried outside the courtroom with his family and about a dozen supporters, many of whom attended much of the roughly monthlong trial.

Skiff, 54, now faces up to eight years in state prison.

Despite a motion by the prosecutor, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen ruled that Skiff may stay out of custody on bail while he awaits his scheduled sentencing Jan. 25.

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The Manse on Marsh Monica Vaughan mvaughan@thetribunenews.com

Following the verdict, Deputy Attorney General Mark Cumba, who prosecuted the case, referred comment to the Attorney General’s Office public affairs office.

Skiff was unavailable for comment immediately following the verdict, but Manse on Marsh administration released a statement expressing “great sadness and dismay” at the verdict.

“On behalf of the residents, their families, and the staff of The Manse on Marsh, we extend our sympathy to Mr. Skiff and to his family for this unfortunate outcome in the trial,” the statement reads. “We anticipate that all legal options will be explored to exonerate Mr. Skiff.”

In an emailed response to questions from The Tribune, the facility’s current executive director, Logan Sexton, wrote that the business is “providing continuity of operations and will operate with the best interest and care for our residents and staff, under Altamonte Management Advisors, LLC, as we have since July 9, 2018.”

Outside the courtroom, the jury foreman declined to comment on the body’s deliberations.

Skiff had pleaded not guilty to the two charges, along with the business’ former executive director, Gary Potts, in relation to the 2014 death of facility resident Mauricio Edgar Cardenas.

Cardenas had been diagnosed with dementia prior to his moving into The Manse on Marsh in downtown San Luis Obispo, but was allowed to stay at the facility after a physician gave him a primary diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, which is associated with normal symptoms of aging and does not require additional licensing, according to testimony presented during the trial.

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Deputy Attorney General Mark Cumba makes his opening statement for the prosecution Nov. 15 in the trial of Christopher Edward Skiff, the owner of The Manse on Marsh assisted living facility in San Luis Obispo, who faces charges of elder abuse resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter for the December 2014 death of 65-year-old Mauricio Edgar Cardenas. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The 65-year-old Cardenas was struck by a car on Dec. 21, 2014, as he crossed Los Osos Valley Road in the dark roughly 10 miles from the facility.

Though the CHP and the state Department of Social Services did not find The Manse on Marsh responsible for the resident’s death, the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse got involved following a complaint from a former employee, who told the agency’s lead investigator, Sherry Zamanigan, that the facility’s acceptance of residents with dementia was “an accident waiting to happen.”

The facility had previously been cited by the state Department of Social Services in 2007 and 2008 for accepting residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses despite not possessing the required licensing and dementia care plan for staff. The facility was started the licensing process in 2009 before suddenly withdrawing its request without explanation, according to evidence presented during the trial.

The state alleges that Skiff and Potts conspired to admit residents with dementia and related symptoms, knowing that Manse on Marsh was not licensed to care for them.

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Attorney Robert Sanger makes his opening statement for his client Christopher Edward Skiff, the owner of The Manse on Marsh assisted living facility in San Luis Obispo, who is facing charges of elder abuse resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter for the December 2014 death of 65-year-old Mauricio Edgar Cardenas. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In Cardenas’ case, the state alleges that Skiff ordered staff to urge a physician to re-evaluate Cardenas, who was eventually admitted with a recorded primary diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.

But Skiff’s attorney, Robert Sanger, had argued that the state Department of Justice only got involved after receiving complaints from “disgruntled ex-employees,” even though the other state agencies did not find that a crime or other violation occurred related to Cardenas’ death.

When Skiff took the stand in his own defense Dec. 4, he testified that he was not consulted about Cardenas’ admission and past dementia diagnosis by his staff and was unaware of staff problems with Cardenas once he moved in.

Skiff said The Manse on Marsh’s decision not to pursue a dementia care plan and therefore not accept residents with dementia was “a policy I approved and someone else violated.”

Potts is being tried separately from Skiff, and is tentatively scheduled to stand trial Jan. 22.

This article has been updated to include comments from The Manse on Marsh.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.


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