Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Porter woman charged with home improvement fraud and exploitation

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A Porter resident has been charged with home improvement fraud and exploitation of an endangered adult.

Cheryl Pratt, 59, of 2848 Wabash Ave., was booked into the Porter County Jail at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday on those charges.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed by Porter Police Det. Michael Veal, Pratt was the “longtime friend” of an elderly woman who owned a lakefront home in the 3000 block of Florentine Street in Porter. In March 1997 the woman established a trust providing for the distribution of her assets on her death; the trust lists two different trustees but neither was Pratt, Veal stated in his affidavit. Over the next 20 years the trust was amended on seven occasions and in none of the seven amendments was Pratt mentioned.

Then the trust was amended an eighth time. That amendment provided that, on the woman’s death, the right of first refusal for her home--appraised at $575,000--be granted to Pratt, Veal stated. It also provided that the purchase price would include a deduction in price reflecting a $25,000 loan which Pratt made to the woman in August 2014, that Pratt was further to pay 10 percent below the fair-market value of the home, and that the price was to be additionally reduced equal to the value of a series of home improvements which Pratt made to the house, Veal stated.

The specific provision that the purchase price of the home be reduced to reflect the value of those improvement “is a significant factor in the case,” Veal stated. “After this provision was made, Cheryl Pratt began improving a 500-square foot section of (the woman’s) home. From July of 2015 through October of 2016, Cheryl Pratt billed $61,837 for 2,445 hours of labor. “Stated differently, this is enough billable hours to have one person working full-time for over a year on this 500-square foot improvement,” Veal stated. “Despite this, as of August of 2017, the improvements that Cheryl Pratt billed for were incomplete.”

“To exemplify Cheryl Pratt’s unreasonable billing, in May and June of 2016, Cheryl Pratt billed for over 160 hours of labor to install and seal tile,” Veal stated. “Cheryl Pratt then billed for 120 hours of labor to install and clean the tile grout in July of 2016. It is this affiant’s belief that Cheryl Pratt fraudulently billed for labor that was not completed because it would reduce the purchase price of (the woman’s) home” on her death.

Meanwhile, eight days before the elderly woman’s death in April 2017, a final amendment was allegedly made to the trust. “There were several peculiarities with this amendment,” Veal stated. “It was made on notebook paper and hand-written. There are no witnesses listed. It was not prepared by an attorney like all previous trust amendments. And the (elderly woman’s) signature is not as clean-looking as her previous signatures.”

The substance of this amendment, which Veal noted was two sentences in length: it removes the elderly woman’s previous trustee, executrix, and healthcare representative.

Then, six days before the elderly woman’s death, a quitclaim deed allegedly signed by the woman transferred her interest in the home to Pratt for $10, Veal stated.

In the case both of the final trust amendment and the quitclaim deed, a friend of Pratt’s advised police that she witnessed the elderly woman sign the documents but did not witness those documents being read to her, Veal stated.

Following the woman’s death in hospice, several of her caregivers were interviewed, at which time they advised that the woman “was not mentally competent (usually quite unresponsive) to sign a document while in hospice and that she was under narcotic medications at the time these documents were signed,” Veal stated. Her personal attorney, moreover, advised that “he believes (his client) never intended to give her home to Cheryl Pratt,” Veal stated further. And the woman’s “medical records from the hospice center showed that she was regularly administered mind-altering narcotic drugs.”

Home improvement fraud is a Level 5 felony punishable by a term of one to six years. Exploitation of an endangered adult is a Level 6 felony punishable by a term of six to 30 months.

 

Posted 9/19/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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