EXCLUSIVE: “She deceived us into thinking she was an honest, loving person,” Alpine philanthropist Lenora Klein said of a woman sentenced to five years in prison for swindling her, her husband and others out of more than $715,000 in a Ponzi scheme.
The victims included John and Lenora Kleins’ two boys, who are now teenagers but were grade-schoolers when Dunya Predovan was their part-time caretaker from 2004-2012.
Predovan took “all the money they had saved from every birthday and holiday,” Klein wrote in a letter read during Friday’s sentencing. “They now refuse to put money in the banks.”
Her sons were so shocked when she told them what had happened, she wrote, that her youngest “cried and begged me to give her a second chance.”
Klein’s letter, along with testimony from other victims — and Predovan’s own statement — angered Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian.
“You’re a dishonest person,” the judge told the 59-year-old Predovan, of Manahawkin, before a Bergen County Sheriff’s officer handcuffed and led her off to jail ( photo top ).
“You don’t understand the depth of your own dishonesty, and I don’t think you have any remorse whatsoever,” Jerejian said, as she surrendered the keys to her Mercedes to her lawyer.
The Kleins ( photo top ) had no idea that Predovan used their lavish home to con investors by pretending it was hers while as a housekeeper, cook and caregiver for their sons.
“Not only did she steal from our checking account,” Lenora Klein wrote to the judge. “She charged thousands on our credit cards and stole our personal jewelry, furs, clothes, antiques, china, and even a mattress, sending the money to Croatia.”
Predovan also told business owners in town that John Klein was leaving his wife for her, Klein wrote in asking Jerejian to give her the maximum five-year sentence.
The sentencing originally was postponed last year so that Predovan could begin to repay the victims — and, in doing so, secure herself a shorter prison term.
But that didn’t happen.
“You could have spared yourself some time, or even all of it,” Jerejian told her Friday. “But [over] more than two years, you paid not one cent of restitution.”
Given the opportunity to speak, Predovan told the judge that she worked “long hours, nights, weekends” and was abused by the Klein kids, who she said punched and kicked her as she drove them to school and pelted her with oranges and eggs after tying her to a chair.
She insisted she was falsely accused of stealing jewelry, forced to participate in a counterfeit designer handbag operation and made to prepare meals for local police.
This only angered Jerejian more.
“Now that it’s time to go to prison, you blame it on everyone else,” he told her. “Frankly, it’s impossible for me to accept the things you said here. You stole from a lot of people.”
Victims said they were promised a high rate of return but, instead, ended up losing everything they gave Predovan. Two testified during the sentencing, while a fourth, like Klein, wrote a letter to the judge.
That woman, a Manahawkin neighbor, said Predovan and her husband always had new luxury vehicles, including a motorcycle they had shipped to their home in Croatia, while she was being prosecuted in Bergen County.
One day, she said, Predovan shared a $400 bottle of wine while scamming her out of $10,000.
When her husband died of cancer, the neighbor said, she asked Predovan to return the money so that she could pay for his repast and funeral. Predovan claimed that the penalties were too great and that she was in Croatia and unable to make the transfer, the woman said, adding that she hung up and couldn’t be reached again.
Alpine police originally arrested Predovan on theft and forgery charges on May 10, 2012.
The case was turned over to detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, who unraveled what they said became a much larger scheme involving victims in Closter and Glen Rock, as well. Victims included Englewood restaurant owner Carlo Bartolomeo and Bergenfield photographer/writer Elizabeth R. Burchard, they said.
Predovan had told the investors that she worked for financier George Sorros in the 1980s. So detectives checked with Sorros, a Hungarian-American octogenarian business magnate, investor and philanthropist known as “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England” because of his $1 billion in investment profits during the United Kingdom’s 1992 “Black Wednesday” currency crisis.
But Sorros, who has donated more than $8 billion to human rights, public health, and education causes, said he’d never heard of her.
A man who tutored the boys worked at the Klein home to make extra money while he and his wife were both in college and expecting their first child compared Predovan to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
“There is true evil in this world,” he testified in court on Friday. “It doesn’t have to crawl through the back door because she comes through the front door, dressed as a beautiful woman.
“But a snake is just a snake.”
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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