A 65-year-old Alaskan grandfather was sentenced to two years of suspended jail time, two years of probation and 160 hours of community work service for forging his grandchildren’s Permanent Fund Dividend checks and depositing them.
Judge Philip Pallenberg said he was reluctant at first to accept a plea deal that didn’t require time to serve in prison for PFD fraud. But the judge said he changed his mind and accepted the deal after considering all the facts of the case against Daniel Batalona, of Anchorage.
“While he wound up with that PFD money in his bank account and spent some of it — and that’s not a good thing — in some ways, it’s more a crime against the banking system than it is against the PFD system because there’s no evidence that Mr. Batalona had played any part in the PFD fraud,” Pallenberg said during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.
Batalona’s attorney Grace Lee said her client did not apply for the PFD money, nor did he make false statements.
What happened, she said, was that the children’s parents applied for the children’s PFD money in 2010 while residing in Wahiawa, Hawaii, but used Batalona’s address in Anchorage as their residence on the applications.
“Mr. Batalona told his son not to do this because, I believe the statement was, ‘I would be tempted to cash it if you do this,’ but they sent it anyway,” Lee said. “He did what he thought was a good idea. He thought he should keep it for his granddaughters.”
Prosecutors with the Attorney General’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals accused Batalona of accepting three checks issued to the grandchildren, forging the back of the checks with his name and his son’s name, and depositing the money into his bank account.
Each of the three checks was for $1,281, for a total of $3,843, said Assistant Attorney General Anne Preston.
Batalona admittedly spent some of the money on two laptops and on rent, but he paid all the money back within a month of being notified by the Department of Revenue’s Criminal Investigations Unit, Preston said.
Batalona was indicted last October on three counts of first-degree forgery and three counts of second-degree theft, both felonies.
He pleaded guilty in March to a one count of a reduced second-degree forgery charge. In turn, the plea deal dismissed the rest of the counts against him.
Second-degree forgery is a class ‘C’ felony that has a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The presumptive sentencing term is zero to two years for first-time felony offenders. This was Batalona’s first felony conviction.
Batalona, who attended the hearing by phone, declined to address the court when given an opportunity to speak.
Lee told the judge she and her client understand the community condemnation is a factor in the sentencing.
“I understand the stigma of PFD fraud cases where it’s very clear that people in Alaska don’t like it when people take their money, because it affects not just the money that was taken, but the entire PFD system,” Lee said. “However, I think that this crime is a little bit different than the normal PFD cases that we see.”
Batalona’s son, Zachary Scott Batalona, 40, is still facing felony unsworn falsification charges and attempted second-degree theft charges for his part in the scheme.
The state has not charged the children’s mother with any criminal offense, and whether the grandchildren were eligible to receive PFD checks is still pending as an administrative matter with the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division, Preston said.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 at firstname.lastname@example.org.