‘They tarnished his golden years:’ Widow faces off with Wells Fargo over checks forged by housekeeper

WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Pete and Claudia McDonald pose in an undated photo taken during dinner on the Carnival Glory cruise ship. (Courtesy Claudia McDonald)

In another life, Claudia McDonald believes she would be a prosecutor.

She is a self-proclaimed seeker of justice. She watches documentary TV shows about real-life white collar crimes and firmly believes in the criminal justice system.

Although Claudia McDonald has never been an attorney, she will now represent her late husband, Pete McDonald, in small claims court in Williamsburg.

Her goal: Recoup thousands of dollars a housekeeper stole from Pete McDonald’s Wells Fargo bank account in late 2014.

Claudia McDonald plans to go head-to-head with national banking giant Wells Fargo on March 20, asking them to pay back a $4,400 check that was fraudulently cashed in December 2014 after the couple put a hold on the bank account.

“They tarnished his golden years,” she said of Wells Fargo.

The check is one of 117 checks fraudulently cashed by the McDonalds’ housekeeper, Dana Morris, 42, according to court documents.

“We were just in shock, he was completely in shock,” Claudia McDonald said. “I thought the bank protected people’s accounts.”

Of the 117 checks, Claudia McDonald plans to pursue 4 of them in small claims court, starting with the one for $4,400, according to court documents. All four checks were cashed after the couple put a hold on the bank account in late November 2014, after they discovered Morris had been taking money out.

“They started to pull the checks and see all these forged checks,” she said. “I asked Pete what happened, and he said very faintly ‘she stole all my money.’ I asked him who stole it all, and he said ‘Dana.’”

“That’s how naïve we were,” she said.

Their former housekeeper, Dana Morris, 42, was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison Jan. 18 for stealing about $558,600 in forged checks from Pete McDonald’s Wells Fargo bank account.

Dana Morris, 42, was sentenced to more than 3 years in prison for stealing more than $550,000 from an elderly Williamsburg man while working as his housekeeper. (Courtesy of Pete McDonald)
Dana Morris, 42, was sentenced to more than 3 years in prison for stealing more than $550,000 from an elderly Williamsburg man while working as his housekeeper. (Courtesy of Pete McDonald)

Officials say all of the checks were deposited into Morris’ personal checking account. She spent the money on rent, jewelry and retail and entertainment items, according to a Jan. 18 U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

“One hundred and seventeen checks and not one was picked up [by the bank],” Claudia McDonald said. “Not one check looked like the other one. I didn’t have to be a handwriting analyst to figure out that’s not his signature.”

After her husband passed away suddenly Jan. 21, Claudia McDonald chose to represent Pete McDonald herself, with a Florida attorney and family friend, Robert Stone, as her advisor.

Claudia McDonald hopes to pursue four separate lawsuits for the four fraudulently cashed checks.

The first lawsuit for the $4,400 check was filed Sept. 14 by Pete McDonald, court documents show. Lawsuits for the other three checks have not yet been filed, according to court records.

“We were going to file a big lawsuit against them for all 117 checks, but the bank sent back a short letter saying the egregious activity gone on so long, we’d never see any money,” she said. “And we checked with other Virginia attorneys, and they said the same thing.”

Each check is below $5,000, making them eligible for small claims court in Williamsburg, Claudia McDonald said.

“Silly me, I thought that if someone stole or forged your checks, the bank would give you your money back. Now I have to go be a lawyer for Pete,” she said.

WYDaily archives were used in this story.