Instead of living his final years in the home he purchased in Post Falls and paying his expenses with his life savings, 92-year-old Truxton Oehrlin shares a room at a Coeur d’Alene nursing home and relies on public assistance.
He blames his stepdaughter-in-law for the change in his life. He moved in with his stepson’s family several years ago, and over time, he says, his stepson’s wife, Rose Treat, drained his bank accounts and tricked him into signing over his home to her.
In Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday, First District Judge Charles Hosack accepted a plea deal arranged by the prosecuting attorney’s office and Treat’s attorney, Mark Jackson. Although admitting no guilt, Treat paid $40,000 restitution and agreed to repay $8,800 more within a year. She will serve two years of probation for the felony conviction and perform 100 hours of community service.
That was little comfort to Oehrlin and his daughter, Jan Stanton, who place the amount stolen by Treat closer to $150,000 when equity in the home is included. They decried the lack of jail time and the fact that Treat could one day expunge the conviction from her record.
“I thought I got paid back with my own money,” said Oehrlin, surrounded by family and friends from the Lake City Senior Center, where he used to drive every day to play pool and eat lunch with friends. Oehrlin, a diabetic, uses a wheelchair after the recent amputation of both legs above the knee.
Oehrlin’s and other recent cases have caused Kootenai County law enforcement to join with the Area Agency on Aging of North Idaho and business owners to form a task force to educate the public on how to recognize and address elder abuse, said Post Falls Police Detective Rod Gunderson, who investigated Oehrlin’s case. The task force plans to hold its first meeting next month.
Gunderson initially sent the prosecutor a recommendation for three felony charges against Treat, including grand theft, forgery and exploitation of a vulnerable adult, he said. His investigation showed Oehrlin’s bank accounts were used to pay thousands of dollars’ worth of gas bills for Treat’s husband’s trucking business, payments on her son’s car, credit card bills and numerous household expenses.
Oehrlin said he never authorized Treat to use his money for anything other than his own care, bills, medications and expenses.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Donna Gardner said she tried to arrange the best deal she could, “with (Treat) paying back every dime we could prove.” She added that Oehrlin and Stanton are still free to pursue a civil lawsuit if they feel justice has not been done.
In court Monday, Treat stood up and apologized to both Oehrlin and Stanton. She said it was never her intention to harm Oehrlin. She said she was sorry for the condition he was in and that his faith in her had been destroyed. By way of explanation, she said, “I took you into my home and cared for you.”
Jackson, her attorney, said Treat helped care for Oehrlin and his wife, before she died, for many years before Oehrlin moved in. He said Treat helped Oehrlin pay his mortgage for years and put a down payment on a car for him.
However, both Treat and her attorney declined further comment outside the courtroom following sentencing.
“It’s a slap on the wrist,” said Lyle Slagle, a close friend of Oehrlin’s who read an impassioned statement prior to sentencing detailing the actions he believes Treat committed. He spoke of Oehrlin’s service in World War II and his 25-year career as a children’s dentist. He recalled the day Oehrlin told him with tears in his eyes that his bank accounts contained almost no money.
Because of his declining health, Oehrlin’s statement to the court had been taped previously. In it, he said he’d always believed in the goodness and fairness of people. He said Treat’s actions had wounded him more than anything ever had.
“My home that I wanted to spend my last days in is gone,” he said. “My only daughter’s inheritance that I planned for her to have has been stolen. Debt has been rung up in my name and without my knowing.”
He told the judge he’d always tried to pay his own way in life. Finally he addressed Treat: “I still don’t know why you did this to me.”