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