By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A man accused of scamming an elderly Havre man out of hundreds of thousands of dollars has pleaded no contest to felony theft.
Arthur Warren Hammons, 36, entered the plea Wednesday in state District Court in Havre. A plea of no contest means Hammons does not admit guilt but acknowledges that enough evidence exists to convict him during a trial.
Hill County Attorney David Rice said today that he will recommend a sentence of three years with the Montana Department of Corrections, as well as a seven-year suspended prison sentence.
Hammons has agreed to forfeit a house and some property as restitution to the victim, Rice said.
The property includes "everything from stereos and knickknacks to sports memorabilia," Rice said.
The maximum penalties for the offense are 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for July 28.
According to the charging document, Hammons and his wife, Kristie Elaine Hammons, 29, deceived an 83-year-old man out of nearly $700,000 and used the money to pay for six late-model cars and a series of lavish vacations.
Kristie Hammons was charged with felony theft in April, more than seven months after her husband was charged. She has pleaded not guilty.
According to court records, prosecutors originally did not believe Kristie Hammons was involved with the thefts, but changed their minds after an extensive investigation.
According to the charging document, the couple took $676,348 in cash and checks from the alleged victim. Over the course of five years, the elderly man pawned his possessions and took out loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep providing money to the couple, the document alleges.
The couple asked him for money for land and timber investments and promised him millions from a medical settlement for a nonexistent heart operation, the document said. The couple spent more than $170,000 on three trips to Las Vegas and a luxury cruise, and bought new vehicles with cash, leaving the elderly man too poor to purchase food, the document alleges.
Havre police and the Montana Criminal Investigation Bureau began an investigation in April of 2002 after receiving complaints that the alleged victim had "been acting broke" despite receiving income from several sources, the charging document said. Friends said they were worried because the man had been borrowing large sums of money and could not afford to feed himself, the document said.
One man told police he was "concerned about (the alleged victim's) health because he had gone from being a husky man to one of only skin and bones."
The friend visited the alleged victim's house and found "one apricot in the freezer and a half gallon of milk in the refrigerator," the document said.
The owner of a local pawn shop told police he had purchased antique furniture for thousands of dollars from the man, the document said. On one occasion the man told the pawn shop owner he "needed another $2,400 by noon the next day or he was a dead man," according to the charging document.
Officers met with the alleged victim, who told them he had given large sums of money to Warren Hammons, the document said. Hammons had told the man he needed money for emergency heart surgery in Kalispell and then asked for additional money to fund a malpractice suit, the document said.