Sister denies her own story in Costa inheritance battle

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Angeline Costa Gifford told her brother in voice mail messages and told a detective in an interview that she did forge her siblings' names on four deeds for property belonging to her father in 2006.

But during testimony at her criminal trial Tuesday, she denied it, and instead said her father, the late Albert Costa Sr., must have done it.

"I do not recall signing them," she said.

Ms. Gifford, 57, of Jefferson Hills is charged with forgery, theft and unsworn falsification. She is accused of removing the names of her three half-siblings from four property deeds in 2006 without their knowledge.

Her trial in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, before Judge Edward J. Borkowski, began Monday. The jury heard closing arguments Tuesday afternoon and will resume deliberations today.

During direct examination by attorney Robert Crisanti, Ms. Gifford said she might have signed the name of her now-deceased brother, Albert Jr., on the deeds but that she did not sign the name of her brother, state Rep. Dom Costa.

"I never admitted each and every name," she said.

"You don't deny you were involved in this?" Mr. Crisanti asked. "I do not. I was 100 percent involved in this," she answered.

During cross-examination by assistant district attorney Lisa Mantella, the prosecutor read to Ms. Gifford from voice mail messages she left for Dom Costa, after he learned of the forgeries.

In one recording in February 2012, Ms. Gifford said, "It's fraud because I shouldn't have signed your names to it."

Asked to explain how that squares with her testimony that she didn't sign them, Ms. Gifford said, "Those are my words that are being misconstrued."

She told the jury, "I was very upset I was being accused of doing something to my family."

Ms. Gifford explained that when her father asked her to remove the names of her half-siblings, she was uncomfortable about it and told her father.

By the time her father gave her the documents to file with the Recorder of Deeds, Ms. Gifford said, "I was 100 percent assured that each and every member knew he was going to have their names signed.

"When I took it to the notary, I thought it was all done properly."

She did admit to signing her ex-husband's name as a witness on the documents, but said she sought permission from him before she did.

Ms. Gifford said that her father's changing of the deeds -- and including all seven of his children initially on the deeds in 2003 -- was done as an estate planning tactic.

Albert Costa Sr. died in 2011 and, according to testimony, had the deeds to the four properties changed several times.

Ms. Mantella also questioned Ms. Gifford about a 2010 filing for bankruptcy.

The prosecutor accused the defendant of having the properties in question transferred back out of her name in the months before she filed for bankruptcy so that they would not show up as assets for her. On the bankruptcy petition -- where it asks for a list of all properties transferred in the past two years -- Ms. Gifford did not include any of the ones in question in the case.

Ms. Gifford denied the allegation. "I certainly wasn't thinking of them," she said. "I didn't think of myself as owning them."

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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