- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - An East Helena man is charged with stealing more than $400,000 from an elderly woman over the past dozen years, apparently spending significant amounts of money at casinos.

The theft was discovered when the 81-year-old woman was about to be evicted from her nursing home for non-payment of fees, the Independent Record (https://bit.ly/29nXhvb ) reported.

Ernest Norman Hughes, 53, was charged Tuesday with felony exploitation of an older person and theft. He did not enter a plea in Justice Court, where his bail was set at $250,000. His District Court arraignment is set for July 20. Hughes requested a public defender.

Hughes met the woman years ago when she hired him to work around her former home and the two became friends, court records said. The woman was a retired teacher and a widow who had no children and no other relatives living nearby.

An adult protective services worker contacted police in December over concerns that Hughes was exploiting the woman, who was about to be evicted from the Masonic Home for failing to pay the $3,700 monthly cost of her care, prosecutors said.

Officials learned that the woman had about $434,000 in her bank account in 2003 when she granted Hughes gained power of attorney over her finances to help her pay her bills, court records said. She added him as a signor to her checking account a couple of years later. The woman also received about $1,600 each month in Social Security and retirement benefits, or nearly $20,000 a year.

Investigators subpoenaed the woman’s bank records and discovered Hughes had written numerous checks to casinos and for cash as well as to fast-food restaurants, himself and his family members, according to charging documents.

Although some checks were written for goods and services for the woman, “there is no accounting for the disappearance of more than $400,000,” court records said.

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Information from: Independent Record, https://www.helenair.com

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