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After calling her actions “despicable,” a judge gave a Butte woman a 10-year suspended sentence Thursday for stealing more than $27,000 from her 72-year-old mother while she was battling cancer.

Prosecutors had recommended a six-year suspended sentence for 40-year-old Marissa Monet Curnow, but District Judge Mike Salvagni said that wasn’t sufficient punishment and probation time for such an inexcusable crime against a loved one.

Curnow must pay her mother back $27,198 as part of her sentence, and if it ends up being revoked because of probation violations over the next decade, the judge said, “It’s not going to be six years in prison, it’s going to be 10 years in prison.”

Curnow was supposed to be taking care of her mother, Salvagni said, but instead was stealing her money, depriving her of basic needs like food, and leaving the mortgage and other bills unpaid.

“She stole from her mother to feed her (drug) addiction and support her gambling addiction,” Salvagni said to Curnow, whose mother was sitting in the courtroom. “There is absolutely no excuse for the defendant’s behavior.

“Quite frankly, there is only one word to describe this — despicable,” he said.

Curnow had previously pleaded guilty to exploitation of an elderly person, a felony in Montana that carries a possible 10-year prison term and $10,000 fine.

The mother told police in October 2017 that Curnow and her husband had power of attorney over her because she had been sick, according to prosecutors. Police learned later that she was a widow, had cancer, and was showing signs of dementia.

She said her daughter was using her debit card and, instead of paying her bills with the money, was using it all for herself. The daughter had drug and gambling problems, she said.

An official with Adult Protective Services visited the home and said the mother’s basic needs were not being met. There was no food in the house, several bills were past due, some of her checks had forged signatures, and Curnow “somehow managed to put her student loans” in her mother’s name.

The mother did not want to press charges at first, prosecutors say, because she had cancer and needed Curnow to be her caregiver. She also believed she was dying and “does not want Curnow to be in any trouble.”

She later said her daughter needed help with drug and gambling problems, and though she didn’t want to see her in prison, she would press charges if that was the only way to get her help.

On Thursday, Curnow came into the courtroom with her mother, and the two left together after sentencing.

Kelli Fivey, the lead prosecutor in the case, said a suspended sentence would allow Curnow to pay back the money and “continue to take care of her mom.” Fivey said she wasn’t trying to minimize what Curnow had done, but more than anything, the mother wanted her daughter to get help.

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Josh Demers, Curnow’s public defender, said she had problems with alcohol, drugs, and gambling and was “obviously at a very low point in her life” when stealing from her mother.

But she was addressing her problems and “coming to terms" with her actions, he said.

“She is incredibly remorseful for what she has done,” Demers told Salvagni.

The judge said stealing from anyone was bad, but taking from one’s own mother “puts a dark cloud over this case.”

Curnow and her mother still depended on each other, Salvagni said, so incarceration wasn’t the best answer. But abiding by probation terms for 10 years and paying her mother back was a “big burden” she must meet, he said.

“You hurt probably the most important person in your life,” he said.

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Reporter with emphasis on government and politics.

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