Manse on Marsh owner to serve 180 days in jail for manslaughter, elder abuse conviction

Jurors found Christopher Edward Skiff, the owner of The Manse on Marsh assisted living facility in San Luis Obispo, guilty of elder abuse resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter for the 2014 death of 65-year-old Mauricio Edgar Cardenas.
Jurors found Christopher Edward Skiff, the owner of The Manse on Marsh assisted living facility in San Luis Obispo, guilty of elder abuse resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter for the 2014 death of 65-year-old Mauricio Edgar Cardenas.

The owner of The Manse on Marsh senior assisted living facility will serve 180 days in San Luis Obispo County Jail after he was convicted last month of involuntary manslaughter and elder abuse for the death of a resident.

Christopher Edward Skiff was surrounded by supporters as Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen sentenced him Friday to a five-year prison term, which will be suspended pending completion of five years of formal probation, and ordered Skiff to serve the full six months of local confinement.

Skiff, 55, was charged along with The Manse on Marsh’s former executive director, Gary Potts, for the 2014 death of 65-year-old facility resident Mauricio Edgar Cardenas. It was determined in trial that Cardenas, as a person diagnosed with dementia, should not have been living at the facility, which was not licensed to care for dementia patients.

It had twice previously been cited for that reason.

Cardenas, who had been an independent-minded resident in his short time there, was struck by a car Dec. 21, 2014, as he walked or jogged in the dark roughly 10 miles from the facility on Los Osos Valley Road.

Mark Cumba, a deputy with the California Attorney General’s Office who prosecuted the case because The Manse is a state-licensed facility, argued during the nearly month-long trial that Skiff and Potts sought to increase profits by accepting Cardenas even though they knew they weren’t licensed to care for him.

Several employees, some who testified against their former boss, told a state investigator that the business’ attempts to admit dementia patients was “an accident waiting to happen.”

Manse on Marsh (2)
The Manse on Marsh is located in downtown San Luis Obispo. Monica Vaughan

Skiff’s attorney, Robert Sanger, argued that the state’s case was based on information from “disgruntled former employees” and pointed out that two other state agencies — the CHP and Department of Social Services — had not found the facility was at fault for Cardenas’ death.

In addition to Skiff’s jail time and supervision, van Rooyen granted a term requested by Cumba to prohibit Skiff from having any involvement in the day-to-day operations of any adult care facility.

In deciding Skiff’s sentence, van Rooyen disagreed with an assessment by the Probation Department, which recommended in a standard pre-sentencing report that Skiff serve a total of eight years in state prison, which the Attorney General’s Office previously told The Tribune was the maximum possible sentence.

The probation officer found that Skiff’s crimes “warrant a significant period of incarceration,” noting Cardenas’ vulnerability as a person diagnosed with dementia, as well as Skiff’s knowledge of that diagnosis and his ability to have prevented the resident’s death.

“In this case, it appears that money was certainly the motivating factor and the fact that financial gain was more important than the victim’s overall needs aggravates this case,” Deputy Probation Officer Sarah Lowe wrote Jan. 16.

According to the report, Skiff was interviewed by Lowe, who wrote that Skiff stated his desire was to serve probation but no jail time, in order to take care of his family.

“I’ve worked my whole career serving seniors ,” Skiff reportedly told the officer. “I have a passion for making their lives better, and I’m sorry for what happened to the man that was living at The Manse on Marsh.”

In a news release Friday, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote that the conclusion of Skiff’s trial “brings justice to the family of Mauricio Edgar Cardenas.”

My heart breaks for this family and the tragic loss they had to endure,” Becerra wrote. “Elderly patients and their families place the highest level of trust in care facilities and their staff to protect residents, not neglect their needs.”

The Manse on Marsh also issued a news release Friday attributed to Logan Sexton, managing principal for Altamonte Management Advisors, LLC, the company that manages The Manse on Marsh, which read:

“On behalf of the residents, their families, and the caring staff of The Manse, we would like to offer our heartfelt concern and sincere regard for Chris Skiff and his family, as they battle through severe adverse circumstances that have impacted their lives. We stand strong with Chris and his family as they face the stress of an unexpected verdict and the sequential regrettable sentencing imposed upon him. Mr. Skiff is a caring and respected man of faith, a wonderful father, an adoring husband, and has been an exceptional friend to so many of us in the San Luis Obispo community. Our prayers will continue to follow Mr. Skiff and his family as they walk through this difficult season of life.”

Given van Rooyen’s probation term that Skiff not be involved in the operations of an adult care facility, it was unclear Friday whether his conviction has affected or will affect his ownership in The Manse. A spokeswoman for the facility did not immediately have that information late Friday.

Skiff is scheduled to turn himself in to County Jail on March 22.

Potts has a trial setting conference late next month.

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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.