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Missoula woman convicted of bilking mom; must pay back $100K

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A Missoula woman convicted of bilking her elderly mother, who has dementia, of the money from her home received a 10-year suspended sentence Tuesday. Paulette Homer Ford also was ordered to pay back $100,000 – less than half the amount sought by the prosecution.

“Our elderly family members are being taken advantage of and this is the time we tell the community it’s not OK,” said Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark.

Clark had argued in favor of a 10-year sentence with eight years suspended. She also sought restitution of nearly $208,000, an amount that included attorneys’ fees expended by Ford’s relatives in a long-running battle over control of their mother’s care and assets.

Those relatives were furious when Ford used the proceeds from a reverse mortgage on her mother’s home to pay off her own mortgage and debts. Because of that, they said, there was no money to maintain their mother in a nicer nursing home than the one where she now resides.

“She exploited her mother,” Clark said. “She drained her assets.”

Ford’s attorney, Lisa Kauffman, said an appeal will be filed as soon as possible.

“I am not sure why this family has fractured and splintered as much as they have over this,” she said Tuesday. She accused family members who went to police with their suspicions about Ford as displaying “a ferocity that borders on malicious.”

The prolonged sentencing hearing – it actually began a few weeks ago, but was continued so that both sides could provide District Court Judge Karen Townsend more detailed financial information – featured wrenching testimony from both sides of the family.

Ford nursed her husband through seven years of the cancer that eventually killed him. She obtained more than $141,000 from the reverse mortgage and spent all of it within months of her husband’s death, Kaufman said Tuesday.

Among the checks Ford wrote: $31,420 to pay off a horse trailer with living quarters she bought so that her terminally ill husband could accompany her on travels; $65,064 to pay off the line of credit against the Florence home she shared with her husband; $67,207 toward the mortgage on the Missoula condo she bought after her husband died and she sold the Florence home; $65,065 to Lowe’s for a deck and other improvements to the condo, and $5,000 for still more condo remodeling.

That last amount included installing disabled-accessible bathrooms with the expectation that her mother would someday come to live with her, Ford told Townsend Tuesday.

Ford also lent her daughter $100,000 she obtained by taking out a line of credit against her condo. Ford’s sister, Debbie Richardson, said after Tuesday’s sentencing that money should have gone to their mother instead.

“If you could see the condition our mother lives in now, it would make you cry,” Sandy Powell, Ford’s sister-in-law, chimed in.

Ford protested during Tuesday’s hearing that “it has not been pleasant on my side of this, either. If I had the money, my mom would have it.”

“But your mom would have the money if you hadn’t given it to your daughter,” Townsend said. “You basically have put your mother in the position where she was taken advantage of.”

Ford was found guilty of exploiting an older person in a bench trial in January. She could have faced 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com or @CopsAndCourts.

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