EXCLUSIVE: Ida Shlain doesn’t want to talk about her brother; neither does Natalya Vronsky, and neither does Ida Hovav, who are all one and the same person. In fact, she doesn’t want to talk to reporters at all. I’ve been trying to find her since 2010, when she helped sibling Aron Shlain steal $886,000 from the elderly widow of Oscar-nominated art director Ross Bellah. Aron Shlain fled to Israel with the loot, and I recently discovered that his sister is now living in a gated mansion on Deep Canyon Drive in the hills above the Beverly Hills Hotel. The woman Aron Shlain fleeced, Bellah’s widow, Eunice, didn’t fare nearly so well. She died in 2012 in the nursing home that Aron had put her in, before he sold the home that her husband so lovingly designed. Shlain then absconded with the proceeds.
Now, you might be wondering why I am bringing up Ross and Eunice Bellah, and Aron and Ida Shlain, when the former are dead and the latter got away with it. Well, call it a journalist’s version of a cold case, but I haven’t forgotten about the injustice done to this widow of a once-prominent Hollywood art director. Or when, last time I spoke to her in that nursing home in 2010, Eunice told me that “Aron is a rotten bugger. He should be put in jail.” So while the only real activity here is that lawyers, as late as Tuesday, were still squabbling over who will get paid if the stolen money is ever recovered, a source told me where to find the con man’s sister and accomplice. So maybe this article stands as a worthy cautionary tale about how a lifetime of hard work and prosperity in Hollywood can be lost in later years when trust is placed in the wrong person.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I was told by Shlain/Vronsky, the sister of Aron Shlain, after I tracked her down. She immediately declined to answer any questions about her involvement in the theft. “I don’t know what authority you have. I don’t know who you are. I get a lot of crank calls.”
Ross Bellah had once been one of Hollywood’s busiest art directors, working in the art department at Columbia Pictures Television for 35 years and retiring as the head of the department in 1989 at age 82. He was the art director on 254 episodes of Bewitched, on 95 episodes of Fantasy Island, on 139 episodes of I Dream Of Jeannie, and on hundreds of episodes of dozens of other hit TV shows.
He’d been nominated for an Oscar in 1957 for The Solid Gold Cadillac and received three Emmy nominations along the way. But his greatest pride was the home he designed for his artist-wife in Studio City, complete with a studio where she could paint, and a Japanese garden that his neighbors called “an oasis.”
“He designed everything,” recalled his longtime neighbor, Herb Adelman, a production manager who served on the DGA board of directors for 27 years. “It was a small house – very Japanese – very Frank Lloyd Wright. Everything looked out onto this beautiful Bonsai garden. It had two running streams, a waterfall and a real Koi pond. It was very peaceful.”
And it was that lovely old house on Bellingham Avenue that would be stolen from his widow by the crook he’d hired to do their taxes.
Shlain/Vronsky’s Russian immigrant brother had been Ross Bellah’s tax accountant since 1986. When Ross’ health began to fail in 2003, Shlain got him to sign a document making him his successor trustee. That meant that in the event of Ross’ death, Shlain would become the trustee of their estate — if Eunice were ever to be declared incompetent. Ross died the next year at age 97, and Eunice continued to live in the house her husband designed until she fell and broke her arm in 2008. Shlain then put her in a convalescent home in Van Nuys and found two doctors who declared her incompetent.
At the nursing home, Eunice had an incontinent roommate and very little else but the clothes on her back and a framed picture of herself in happier days. “It was just terrible,” Adelman said. “She was sharing a room with an Alzheimer’s patient and the smell of urine. She had none of her artwork, no television, no telephone. Nothing.” Greg Alpert, Eunice’s old friend and former tenant in her guesthouse, visited her there on her 86th birthday and was so shocked by her condition that he called Adult Protective Services, who later sent an investigator to look into it. Showing up on the day Eunice’s roommate died, the investigator reported that she could not determine that there was any problem. Alpert, a longtime film location manager, immediately went to Eunice’s house and brought her back some clothes, a dozen pieces of her artwork, a box of personal photographs, her television and her husband’s ashes.
Shlain, now in charge of her finances, and in control of her estate, helped himself. On August 28, 2009, he sold her house, a separate guesthouse, and two lots on Bellingham for $900,000. According to court records and subpoenaed documents, Shlain also sold two of her cars and listed for sale on Craigslist her personal possessions – including her sketches and artwork dating back to the 1930s, and her two wheelchairs and walkers. He then put the money from the sales into his own CPA account. Those funds were supposed to be used only for Eunice’s care, but Shlain appeared to be using most of it to support his own lavish lifestyle. His estranged wife said in court documents that he’d begun spending large sums on prostitutes, fancy clothes and expensive vacations. They had separated after 18 years of marriage, but they were still living in the same house. One night, she said in a petition seeking a restraining order, he came home drunk after partying with his new girlfriend. “He hit me in the chest with all his strength,” she declared. “The pain was so severe that I thought he broke my spinal cord.” She called the police and he was taken to jail, but was quickly released.
After selling Eunice’s house and cars, and wiring the money to his sister in Tel Aviv, Shlain closed his accounting office and joined her in Israel. The LAPD confirmed that there is no active investigation of the case, even though the paper trail on the crime is well-documented.
In 2011, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roy Paul entered a default judgment against Shlain, ordering him to pay $2,819, 312 to Eunice’s conservator. The judge ruled that Shlain had committed “financial abuse” against Eunice by causing her “to lose her primary residence and the proceeds from the sale thereof, and substantial loss of property set aside for her retirement and for her personal care and maintenance.”
Before she passed away, Eunice’s friends had become deeply suspicious about why she’d been planted in a nursing home and her house sold. They believed that Shlain had sold the house without Eunice’s legal consent, and for below-market value. So they got a pro bono attorney, Linda Paquette, to try and get a judge to freeze her assets until the court could appoint a new trustee. Shlain, however, using money from Eunice’s trust fund, hired his own lawyers to fight to keep him on as Eunice’s trustee. It wasn’t long before the case then fell into a morass of legal limbo – one that continues to this day – with two judges assigned to the case refusing to freeze the assets or remove Shlain as trustee.
Mary Creutz, one of Eunice’s court-appointed lawyers, spoke to Hope Aguilar, one of Shlain’s attorneys, who assured her that Shlain is a very “straight up guy” who had gotten a fair price for Eunice’s home. Creutz, however, was skeptical. “Several facts seem to be troublesome and need further investigation,” she wrote at the time. “Why does there not seem to have been any effort by Aron Shlain to keep her in her home of many years, when there were apparently enough funds to maintain her there with round-the-clock care?” Even so, Cruetz continued to advocate against removing Shlain as the trustee or freezing the funds.
The first hearing in the case was held on December 11, 2009, before Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas, who ruled against Paquette’s request to have Shlain suspended as Eunice’s trustee. “I am not going to do anything…in terms of making any removal,” he said. “Mr. Shlain will continue to be the trustee.” Eunice’s court appointed attorney, Mary Creutz, agreed with the ruling, stating: “I need some time with this case to see whether Mr. Shlain is as bad as he’s painted to be.” At another hearing on Feb. 11, 2010, Paquette again asked – practically begged – the judge to remove Shlain as Eunice’s trustee, saying that Shlain “took advantage of her and sold her house out from under her and all of her belongings before she was even dead…If selling this woman’s house from under her isn’t enough to convince this court to at least suspend him, then what does it take?” Paquette told the court that Shlain was a “predator on the elderly,” and called him Eunice’s own personal Bernie Madoff. Stewart Neuville, one of Shlain’s lawyers, assured the court that Eunice’s trust fund “is safe and secure, and is being managed competently by a professional certified public accountant.”
Once again, the judge inexplicably demurred and let Shlain stay on as Eunice’s trustee and in total control of her money. The judge scheduled another hearing for March, but bank records subpoenaed in the civil proceedings that followed show that on March 3, 2010, Shlain withdrew $886,000 from Eunice’s trust account and wired it to a woman named Natalya Vronsky at Bank Hapoalim in Tel Aviv. A few weeks later, he closed his accounting office on Wilshire Boulevard and vanished.
Natalya Vronsky, it turns out, is Shlain’s sister, Ida Shlain, who also goes by the name of Ida Hovav. This has been confirmed by her ex-husband, Philip Hovav, who is embroiled in a legal battle with her in Las Vegas. Documents he filed with the court there list all three of her names. “She is a con artist,” he said. “She is using three names – Ida Shlain, Ida Hovav, and Natalia Vronsky. That’s the name she uses in Israel.” He also provided Deadline with a 2009 Israeli bank statement with her name, Ida Natalia Vronsky, written in Hebrew letters.
Ida Shlain, aka Ida Hovav, aka Natalya Vronsky, is a former pharmacist who is no stranger to fraud. Five years before she helped her brother steal the Bellahs’ home, she pleaded guilty in federal court to defrauding Medicare and Medi-Cal out of $93,208. This was in a scheme in which she submitted false invoices to the California Department of Health Services that falsely stated that her business, West Hollywood Pharmacy, had purchased $93,208 of drugs and other items for which the pharmacy later submitted claims to the Medi-Cal program. She was put on two years’ probation and was ordered to repay all the money she stole. The California Board of Pharmacy suspended her license, but she can apply to have her licensed reinstated as early as next month.
Eunice Bellah is gone now, and so is the lovely old house that she and her husband lived in for so many years. In another indignity, that home that he painstakingly designed for his wife was bulldozed to make way for two gaudy new McMansions. But the man who stole their house, and the sister who helped him do it, are still at large. He is living it up in Israel, and she’s living large in Beverly Hills, soon, perhaps, to get her pharmacist’s license back.
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