By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The wife of a man accused of scamming an elderly Havre man out of hundreds of thousands of dollars has been charged with felony theft in connection with the scheme.
Kristie Elaine Hammons of Lloyd was charged Friday in state District Court with felony theft, and could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
According to the charging document, Hammons and her husband, Arthur Warren Hammons, 36, 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.
Warren Hammons was arrested in August on a charge of felony theft.
According to court records, prosecutors originally did not believe Kristie Hammons was involved with the thefts, but changed their minds after reviewing additional evidence. She is set to be arraigned next Tuesday.
Hill County Attorney David Rice has asked District Judge John Warner to consolidate the two cases, which would allow the state to prosecute the couple as co-defendants and avoid the possibility of costly separate trials.
"Joining cases will save the court's time and public resources," Rice said in the motion, dated March 28. Warner has not yet ruled on the request.
Warner on Friday ordered the release of Warren Hammons, who had been held in the Hill County Detention Center since his August arrest. He was released with conditions until future court appearances.
According to the charging document, the couple took $676,348 in cash and checks from the alleged victim. Over the course of five years, he pawned his possessions and took out loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep providing money to the couple, the document said.
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 alleged.
Havre police and the Montana Criminal Investigation Bureau began an investigation last April 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.
The alleged victim asked to borrow money from a friend for Hammons. The friend refused after he discovered Hammons had never been admitted to the hospital in Kalispell, and that the facility did not have a cardiac care unit, the document said.
Hammons told the alleged victim he had filed a federal lawsuit against the doctors, and promised to pay him $4.6 million from the settlement, the document said. The alleged victim also told police Hammons promised him millions from land and timber holdings, of which investigators could find no evidence, the document said.
Hammons told the man not to speak with attorneys or the police because he could jeopardize the malpractice lawsuit and could go to prison, the charging document said.
Officers subpoenaed the alleged victim's bank records and found that by June of 2002, he had less than $25, despite substantial earnings from selling a farm and borrowing more than $500,000 from banks and friends, the document said.
Officers seized Kristie Hammons' bank records, which showed transactions of more than $200,000 since 1997, the document said. She told police the money came from her husband's "investments," although investigators found that Warren Hammons had been unemployed for at least five years, the document said.
When officers interviewed Kristie Hammons on August 27, she told them that money from her husband's investments probably came from the alleged victim, and that the couple had used the money to purchase six new vehicles, a number of horses, furniture, electronic equipment, china collectibles, artwork and Denver Broncos souvenirs, the charging document said.
She began to cry and told police she would give the alleged victim her last $15, the document said.