The former caregiver who stole more than $1 million in cash and jewelry from prominent St. Paul philanthropist John Nasseff was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison, twice the recommended time for his crimes.
Nicholas Lofquist-Sprangel, 23, of Andover, wept after Ramsey County District Court Judge George Stephenson handed down the sentence. He flashed the American Sign Language hand sign for, “I love you,” at his fiancée, mother, stepfather, aunt and uncle as he was taken into custody. He had been free on bail.
“You’ll still be a young man,” Stephenson said regarding his eventual release from prison. “Take care of business while you’re in there so you’re more solid when you come out.”
Lofquist-Sprangel pleaded guilty in January to one count of felony theft for stealing from Nasseff while working overnight as his caretaker. He stole rings, cuff links, watches, jewelry, loose diamonds and cash worth about $1.4 million while ignoring his basic duties, which included helping Nasseff walk to and from the bathroom.
Nasseff suffered a stroke in 2016 and moved with the help of a walker. Doctors warned the family that injuries could cause him to bleed to death because he was on blood thinners. Nasseff’s family hired Lofquist-Sprangel in October 2016, paying him what amounted to about a $100,000 a year.
Lofquist-Sprangel apologized but did not explain his actions before sentencing.
“First off, I would like to say I’m truly sorry. …” he said. “I don’t know what came over me. It just happened.”
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Thomas Hatch argued that Lofquist-Sprangel should receive more time than the recommended guidelines because he repeatedly stole from Nasseff while in a position of trust.
Nasseff, who died on his 94th birthday — Feb. 21 — was too vulnerable to defend himself or fully understand what was happening, Hatch said.
“We just never suspected that there was a thief in our midst,” Nasseff’s widow, Helene Houle, said in her victim-impact statement. “John accomplished a lot during his life. He was generous to so many. … It is truly heartbreaking that John had to deal with this up until his death.”
Nasseff was the son of Lebanese immigrants, and worked his way up from unloading boxcars at West Publishing to serving as its vice president. He and Houle donated millions of dollars to several causes, including a Mexican orphanage, United Hospital, a dental clinic in Lebanon and a student center at Saint Agnes School in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood.
Hatch played several surveillance videos in court that were recorded by Nasseff’s family after they grew suspicious of Lofquist-Sprangel. The videos showed Lofquist-Sprangel taking cash from a wallet in Nasseff’s bedroom, rifling through a dresser and searching for items on a desk while Nasseff slept nearby. They also showed Nasseff walking without assistance from Lofquist-Sprangel.
Lofquist-Sprangel’s attorney, John Leunig, asked Stephenson for a stayed two-year prison term in favor of local jail time with work release. An investigator who assessed Lofquist-Sprangel had recommended a jail term of nine months; Leunig did not request a specific amount.
“He didn’t know the value of what he was taking,” Leunig said in arguing for leniency.
“So what?” Stephenson said.
“My response, your honor,” Leunig said, “is it’s not just, ‘So what?’ ”
“So he was disadvantaged by working for a man who was wealthy who had expensive tastes in his jewelry?” Stephenson asked.
Lofquist-Sprangel told the court that he had saved $2,500 to repay the Nasseff family, and believed that restitution and community service were appropriate punishments.
Stephenson asked Lofquist-Sprangel to consider how he would feel if his mother had been victimized. The judge then said that his own 89-year-old father was in poor health and reliant on a caregiver.
“I can’t tell you how violent I would be” with a caregiver who victimized him, Stephenson said. “Your comment about community service? Come on, man, come on.”
The judge also ordered Lofquist-Sprangel to pay $57,300 in restitution to the Nasseff family. Lofquist-Sprangel sold several pieces of jewelry, including a necklace Nasseff wore every day, but 47 items valued about $1.4 million were recovered from Lofquist-Sprangel’s home.