BANGOR, Maine — A Penobscot County jury will decide if an East Millinocket woman spent her elderly mother’s money to gamble at Hollywood Slots or if a “family squabble” got out of hand.
The trial of Meredith A. Purcell, 59, who is charged with theft by unauthorized taking and misuse of entrusted property, began Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center. She was indicted in September 2011 by the Penobscot County grand jury and has pleaded not guilty to taking more than $100,000 from her mother between 2007 and 2011.
The 89-year-old East Millinocket woman alleged to be the victim of a financial abuse crime broke down on the stand Monday afternoon under cross-examination when asked about how often she sends cash in cards to her children and grandchildren and how often she sees them.
“I still do that, but no, I don’t see them anymore,” the woman said just before she began sobbing. “They never come to see me.”
Superior Court Justice William Anderson called a recess and sent the jury from the room while the elderly woman regained her composure and her daughter, seated across the courtroom at the defense table, wiped tears from her eyes.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin told jurors in her opening statement that Purcell was granted power of attorney for her mother after Purcell’s father died in 2000. During that time, Purcell drained the $150,000 in annuity funds that her father had set up to supplement his widow’s Social Security benefits, the prosecutor said.
“The money points to one person — Meredith Purcell,” Robbin told the jury. “The buck went there and the buck stops there.”
Robbin said that Purcell spent more than $171,000 in three years at Hollywood Slots.
Defense attorney James Billings of Augusta said Purcell’s mother used funds from the annuity to supplement her fixed income, which did not cover her bills.
“What we’ve got here is a family squabble with people looking at it from the outside and second-guessing about what happened,” he said.
Billings said Purcell and her husband were financially stable and did not need to take money from her mother to pay bills or support their lifestyle.
“This is a civil case,” he said during a break in the trial.
Purcell’s mother testified Monday afternoon when the jury of six women and seven men, including one alternate, returned from their lunch break. The trial is scheduled to resume at 1 p.m. Tuesday and to go to the jury Friday.
The frail, elderly woman had difficulty remembering dates and the sequence of events, but said her only daughter and one of her sons were given power of attorney for her affairs after her husband died in 2000. In 2008, the woman said, Purcell took control of her checkbook and began paying her bills.
Under direct examination, Purcell’s mother said she did not recall discussing withdrawals from the annuity funds with her daughter. The elderly woman also answered “no” when asked if Purcell used the money to buy things for herself or to go to Hollywood Slots.
The older woman testified that of the $1,100 or so she received in Social Security benefits a month in 2008, $100 went into a Christmas Club account, $500 went into her checking account and her daughter gave her $500 in cash that she used to buy groceries and clothing, pay to have her hair done and place $5 a week in the offering plate at her church.
The alleged theft was discovered by Purcell’s brother, William “Billy” Hoxie of Lincoln. He testified that he found unpaid bills at his mother’s home in March 2011, including one from the Internal Revenue Service about a late payment for taxes. He consulted Bangor attorney Roberta Winchell, who alerted authorities.
Hoxie told the jury his mother now lives solely on her Social Security income in a low-income housing project.
“The money [from the annuity] should have lasted that woman a lifetime,” he testified. “She doesn’t spend nothing.”
If convicted, Purcell faces up to 10 years in prison on the charges because of the amount of money allegedly involved. She also could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $20,000 and restitution.