HELENA - Former Montana House Speaker Scott Sales of Bozeman said Thursday that he plans to keep running for the state Senate even though his wife has pleaded guilty to embezzling from her mother in a case that the elderly woman says left her broke.
Sandra Poole Sales was last year charged with embezzling almost $20,000 from an account she managed for her mother Alice Pool. Prosecutors are recommending a deferred sentence and 300 hours of community service in exchange for repaying the money that was taken.
Scott Sales said his wife would be taking the deal at a June sentencing hearing.
In the meantime, Sales said he will continue to run in the Republican primary to replace state Sen. Joe Balyeat, who is leaving due to term limits.
Sales told The Associated Press that he was not a part of the accusations and he doesn't think his wife's legal troubles should have any bearing on his candidacy. Sales also serves as the state director for a group called Americans for Prosperity that was founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, according to the group's Web site.
"Most people throughout their life make a mistake, we all do. Unfortunately my wife made one and she is trying to make restitution," said Sales.
Court documents say that Alice Poole contacted a private attorney last May about the missing money after she moved out of the Sales' home. The attorney looked into the case and turned the bank records over to a Gallatin County sheriff's detective after Sandra Sales refused to immediately pay back $45,000 that the attorney believed had been taken from 2009 through 2011.
A 16-page charging document from October says detectives found that $19,573 was taken to pay for shopping trips to Macy's, Murdoch's, Target and other stores. Money was also transferred over the Internet directly to Sandra Sales' account, and a credit account opened in the mother's name was never repaid.
Poole told detectives that she was "coerced" to move from her home in Idaho in 2009 to live with her daughter, even though she wanted to go live in Utah close to her sister. After 10 months, she was moved back to a home in Idaho - when she began to question the spending out of her accounts.
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Poole told detectives that her daughter, when confronted, said "Poole had always given the defendant's siblings money and that she felt it was owed to her as she was never given as much money as her siblings."
Sandra Sales at first told detectives that the money taken was for expenses for her mother, while some was a consensual gift. She has since backtracked from those statements and pleaded guilty Dec. 28, according to court documents.
Poole's attorney, Kevin Fife, said that the elderly woman has since had a small pension re-routed back to her own accounts and lives off of that and what she gets from Social Security.
"It was all of her money. It is gone," he said of the theft.
Fife said he and Poole believe even more money was taken over the years, and that is why they originally asked for $45,000 from Sales. But Fife said they were only able to prove to a criminal standard that about $20,000 was taken, although he believes the large amount could be proven in a civil trial.
Sales said he felt extorted by the request to pay back $45,000, since he saw no evidence that is how much his wife took. That is why he rejected the offer last year to avoid criminal proceedings in exchange for the larger sum, even though he knew it would end up being a public issue in his campaign.
"I think the voters are smart enough to say, look 'Scott was interviewed by the authorities. He was never charged with any of this. He was an innocent bystander in all of this," Sales said. "It is unfortunate that people think they can smear you because you are related to someone who has done something wrong."