Judge dismisses charges against Fargo woman accused of taking $450,000 from mother
FARGO—A prosecutor says a judge's decision to dismiss charges against a Fargo woman accused of stealing more than $450,000 from her mother should be a wakeup call for families dealing with how to care for aging parents.
The case stems from late last year when Caroline Conrad, 55, was charged in Cass County District Court with exploitation of a vulnerable adult and theft.
Prosecutors alleged Conrad stole about $450,000 her mother, Monica Morrell, had placed in a credit union account they had shared access to so it would be easier for her daughter to help her manage her finances.
However, in a nearly 20-page ruling handed down earlier this month, Cass County District Court Judge Steven McCullough dismissed the charges, finding that the language in the application setting up the joint account unambiguously established that anyone named on the account was an owner.
McCullough also said in his Aug. 5 ruling that the dismissal was made without prejudice, meaning it might be possible for charges to be refiled if prosecutors can come up with an approach that moves the case from the civil realm into the criminal arena.
Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Cherie Clark said she is considering appealing the judge's ruling, but she acknowledged that state law may have tied the judge's hands in the case.
Clark said Morrell was left destitute after Conrad made a number of withdrawals from the credit union account her mother set up in 2014.
Morrell was living in Oregon until early 2014, when she sold the family farm and received about $500,000 after taxes, court documents say. She moved to Conrad's Fargo home a short while later, but moved out in December 2014 after the two had trouble getting along.
The joint account was set up when Morrell moved to Fargo, and Conrad's name was placed on the account in case an emergency required someone to help manage the money, charging documents said.
About $115,000 was taken out of the account in June 2014 and moved to Conrad's personal account, according to court documents and prosecutors. Conrad also made a flurry of transfers from the joint account to her personal account on or about the day Morrell left her daughter's home, court records say.
Conrad had her mother trespassed from the property, meaning Morrell would have faced arrest if she returned, prosecutors said.
The transfers came to light when one of Conrad's siblings tried to move Morrell to an assisted living facility and discovered she had about $12,000 left in her accounts and could not afford to live at the facility.
Clark said Morrell is trying to survive with help from a nephew who is renting her an apartment, but she said Morrell's monthly Social Security check doesn't cover the cost.
Also, Clark said, because the money transfers have now been ruled a gift, Morrell doesn't qualify for government services that could help her survive.
"It's a horrible situation," Clark said.
Attempts to reach Conrad for comment were not successful.