Caregiver embezzlement case bound over

Friday, Sep 22 2017 04:09 PM

A judge has found probable cause in a case of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult, sending it to the next court phase.

Mary Ellen Farlow, 65, is charged with embezzlement of $100,000 or more from a vulnerable adult and embezzlement of jointly held property valued at $20,000 or more. The Midland County Sheriff's Office investigated the case, and court documents state the crime occurred from June 2011 to March 2017 in Jasper Township.

Among those called to testify Friday by Assistant Midland County Prosecutor Michael G. Yelsik were Midland County Sheriff's Deputy Brandan Hodges and Barbara Robertson, the daughter of the 90-year-old man Farlow provided care for. The victim in the case, Lynn Zoss, died May 4.

Midland County District Court Judge Michael D. Carpenter oversaw the hearing.

Hodges testified he was called to Zoss' home on March 20, where Zoss explained Farlow lived with him in exchange for household work. She also had been granted power of attorney and had access to his bank accounts for the purpose of paying bills.

"He trusted her and he cared for her," Robertson testified. "She was a companion."

"He said according to his bank records … over $103,000 was missing from his account," Hodges testified. "He believed that Mary … took the money."

Robertson testified she became aware of the situation and found Farlow had a safe deposit box. When authorities opened the box, it was empty, Hodges testified.

Attorney Heather M. Warren of Midland asked Hodges if Zoss had any plans for the money.

"He indicated he was going to give her some of the money," Hodges answered, adding Zoss did not specify a dollar amount nor did he give anyone permission to take the money from the account.

Hodges testified he spoke with Farlow briefly.

"She stated she believed she had a right to the money," for being his caregiver, Hodges said in court.

Robertson testified the sheriff's office was contacted after her father's account was closed and there was reason to believe a large amount of money was missing. She said her father knew there was $103,000 in the account, but Farlow had told the family there was only $20,000. Farlow then split the $20,000, keeping $10,000 for herself and returning $10,000 to Zoss.

Robertson added she knows her father had no interest in going to the casino, but she found withdrawals totaling $22,000 made with an ATM card at a casino and checks Farlow wrote to herself.

She testified she did tell Farlow to be aware there could be a problem because Farlow had suffered medical troubles and her name was on Zoss' account, fearing her father might loose his money, but she did not tell Farlow to close the account.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Carpenter found there was probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that it was committed by the defendant. He bound over the charges to the circuit court, and continued bond.

A circuit court arraignment date will be scheduled.

Court documents state prosecutors have offered a plea deal calling for a guilty plea to the added count of embezzlement in exchange for the dismissal of the original charge.

Embezzlement from a vulnerable adult is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $50,000 or three times the value of the money or property involved. Embezzlement of jointly held property is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $15,000 or three times the value of the money or property involved.