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Homebuilder Villella to change plea

Fargo homebuilder Larry Villella, who previously entered not guilty pleas to criminal charges that he exploited his 75-year-old father-in-law, is expected to change his plea today.

Larry Villella and Catherine Sadler-Villella
In this image from WDAY-TV, Fargo builder Larry Anthony Villella and wife Catherine Ann Sadler-Villella leave the Cass County Courthouse last August.

Fargo homebuilder Larry Villella, who previously entered not guilty pleas to criminal charges that he exploited his 75-year-old father-in-law, is expected to change his plea today.

The plea change comes 10 days before his trial date and roughly two months after Villella's wife, Catherine Sadler-Villella, agreed to testify in the case against her husband in exchange for reduced criminal charges.

Both have previously pleaded not guilty to three felony charges accusing them of exploiting her father out of more than $100,000 and forging his signature on a guaranty to back more than $1 million in loans to finance Villella's business.

Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek would not say whether a plea agreement has been reached in the case, nor to which charges Villella would be pleading guilty.

Villella's attorney, Mark Beauchene, declined to comment.

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A judge has accepted a plea agreement in Sadler-Villella's case calling for her to serve 10 days on work release and 50 days of electronic home monitoring. It is unclear how the work release will affect Sadler-Villella's position as a special education physical therapist at Centennial Elementary in Fargo.

The criminal charges filed last Aug. 20 against Sadler-Villella have not affected her position, said Nancy Jordheim, assistant superintendent of human resources for Fargo Public Schools.

"This has been ongoing now and the charges have nothing to do with children or interaction with children or any of those kinds of things," Jordheim said, adding that the charges involve a vulnerable adult and financial gain and not physical or emotional treatment. "If they did, obviously that would make a difference in employment in a school. She does not handle money ... and they are charges at this point and not a conviction. The charges do not surround things that are part of her employment contract."

Jordheim added that school district officials handle such personnel decisions individually.

Under the plea agreement, Sadler-Villella will plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of forgery and misapplication of entrusted property. A felony charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult will then be dropped.

A date for that hearing and sentencing has not yet been set in her case.

Van de Streek, an assistant Cass County state's attorney, said he does not expect Villella to be sentenced today.

Villella said in August that he has put his homebuilding business, Larry Villella Custom Homes, on hold until the criminal charges are resolved.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541

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