Scales of justice

DEER LODGE — A Deer Lodge woman pleaded not guilty in district court this week to felony elder abuse by exploitation.

According to court records, Cynthia Ward, 62, is accused of bilking a 96-year-old man of $75,886. The fraud allegedly occurred between Jan. 1, 2015, and Sept. 26, 2017. The matter came to light when Ward facilitated the purchase of land south of Deer Lodge from real estate agent Tom Rue using $10,000 paid by the elderly man.

The record states that Rue told Sheriff Scott Howard that he was uncomfortable with the sale after he observed what he felt was undue influence by Ward on the man to pay the down payment.

Ward placed the elderly man in a nursing home on May 3, 2017. Suspicion arose regarding the use of the man’s funds, and it was reported to adult protective worker Janel George.

Ward allegedly had the man's debit card and checkbook and used his Social Security funds for her and other family members’ personal benefit, including ATM withdrawals, two road trips, plane tickets for three other trips, and other expenses.

Ward is free on $25,000 bond pending further court proceedings.

In other recent court proceedings:

• Trevor W. Cuchine, 22, of Deer Lodge pleaded guilty to amended charges of two counts of misdemeanor negligent criminal endangerment.

He was given two one-year deferred sentences to run concurrently, fined $600 and $140 in court fees, and ordered to pay $1,239.86 restitution.

According to court records, on Oct. 30, 2016, Cuchine was with the last group of people to be admitted to the Old Prison Museum haunted house. He ran ahead of the group, and as he ran past a woman actor, he punched her in the face with his fist, causing her head to hit the wall. She was escorted to the hospital where a doctor diagnosed her with post-concussion syndrome.

• Tawnee A. Felde, 27, of Deer Lodge pleaded guilty to felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs, methamphetamine, and to violating conditions of her probation by possessing drug paraphernalia.

On each charge, she was sentenced to a five-year commitment to the Department of Corrections to run concurrent, all suspended, and given credit for one day served.

One condition of the sentence is that Felde complete an in-patient chemical dependency treatment program within six months of sentencing. She must also pay $80 in court fees.

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